“Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.”
— Robert Brault
Persistence and perseverance are often used interchangeably. While they are very similar in many ways, there are a few small differences that can change how you live your life. Persistence will tell you when you’re illogically pursuing something that is already a lost cause. Perseverance, on the other hand, will keep you calm and steady pursuing a goal that is meaningful.
Let’s say you’re in a relationship that is totally not working. You hate the other person, the other person hates you. You both lie to each other, tell some things that are irrelevant or largely insignificant, but mostly keep secrets. You put on a united front in front of your friends and family but behind closed doors, you’re arguing it out all the time. Somewhere in there, you think, hope, and believe it’s going to work. You’re committed and giving it all you got. Every day, however, it’s more of the same. But you grit your teeth, grin, and stay together anyway.
Well, that’s persistence. You’re fighting a losing battle. You’re pursuing something with no real end game, no meaningful results. You’re putting in a lot of effort despite all the signs that it’s not going to work. It’s hopeless. But you persist and persist, ignoring the little voices and the little red flags that tell you you’re wasting your time, energy, and life on a relationship that is not beneficial or healthy.
Now let’s say you want to pursue higher education. You’ve finished undergrad studies but you need an advanced degree to really make it big in the world and take the opportunities that have come to you strictly on your talent. To pursue this advanced degree, you have to make a major move to a new state, find new housing, new work, and ensure you have enough money to pay your bills while you study. There are many obstacles to overcome including your traditional parents who don’t want you to move so far away and who are giving you a million reasons why tragedy awaits you. On top of that, they don’t want to offer any help or support. But you’re hell-bent on advancing your education and life. Nothing will stop you.
Now, that’s perseverance. No matter how tough or hard it seems to be, you find that the rewards outweigh the risks. If you really want it, you will break down whatever doors you have to break to get it. You’ll find a way or create a way. You’ll move on a wing and a prayer if you have to. You won’t allow obstacles, people, or disappointment get in your way. Not because you’re careless and irresponsible, but because you’re one of the few people in the world who believes in their dreams and is courageous enough to pursue it.
Persistence in the wrong things will effectually undo your life. Perseverance in the right things can be the key that unlocks the door to reaching all of your dreams.
The Germans have a word for this. It’s called Sitzfleisch (SITZ-flysh). It means “steadiness” or “staying power.” And it is the ability to apply the seat of your pants to seat of your chair and tolerate something, get through something, stick with something until the outcome that you want is realized. Perseverance is endurance, the ability to turn your will in the direction you want it to go and keep it there until a favorable result is achieved.
The idea that persistence is a virtue has caused too many people to keep working at a job that they hate, to stay in a relationship that is not mutually beneficial, to pursue a goal that only leads to a dead end, to keep doing something for which you have no passionate, no happiness, no excitement, and no life. Doing these things hoping for a different result every time or thinking it will get better some day in the future. This is what persistence gets you most of the time. And not surprisingly, it almost never gets better. It causes people to waste their time, energy, money, and goodwill and as a result to experience defeat and grow bitter and frustrated.
Perseverance is the attitude that works in both good situations and in bad ones. It’s an admirable virtue and a skill that you would do well to attain. When you persevere, the challenges you face aren’t usually repetitive. When you do run into an obstacle, it is always a different one. Because it is different, it requires that you develop a different solution. And in so doing, you keep your mind fresh and nimble. You don’t grow stagnant; you grow deeper. Perseverance doesn’t mean stubbornness, it’s calm, steadfast strength.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t need persistence. You do. But persistence has limits. There are times when going on with the same things just don’t make sense. Perseverance has no limits, no deadlines, no expiration dates. People have given their entire lives and legacies over to a cause that was meaningful, fulfilling, and beneficial to other people. They would live and die for the dreams they believe in. So take a step back and make sure you’re being perseverant about the right things, make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Develop some Sitzfleisch (SITZ-flysh). Far more goals have been reached by people being willing to try not just one thing, but many different things until the thing they want clicks.
“Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”