Perseverance Makes Up
Perseverance is an underappreciated virtue. It lacks the nobility of
integrity, the sparkle of brilliance, the grace of generosity. But the
beauty of perseverance is that, in time, it always makes up for that
which it lacks.
Consider this example: I learned recently that
one of my former students just finished her doctoral degree at the
College of William & Mary. She started the process 14 years ago. Her
tenacious determination to earn the degree involved surmounting
numerous interruptions false starts, several years abroad, retirements
of faculty advisers, revised dissertation topics and the need to earn a
living wage, among others. Upon learning that she had at last received
her diploma, I told her she was an uplifting example of the virtues of
It is inspiring to see someone satisfy the
unrelenting demands of aspiration. Doggedness can overcome many
obstacles. President Calvin Coolidge once declared that "nothing in the
world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. ... Genius
will not. ... Education will not. Persistence and determination alone
I have always been impressed by the simple
eloquence of perseverance and its remarkable resilience. My former
student's good news prompted me to retrieve the letter of endorsement I
wrote for her in 1988. In recommending her to the graduate admissions
committee, I recognized that they would encounter students with greater
native brilliance and accumulated knowledge, but, I predicted, they
would never meet someone with such unbowed independence of mind,
unbridled energy and gutsy fortitude. Her strenuous efforts have
fulfilled my bold prediction.
There is a message here, something
we are meant to notice, to learn from, to understand and to emulate.
Nothing concentrates the mind or tests our character like a demanding
goal the desire to be something better than we are, to be the person
that God means us to be. Personal growth requires personal struggle;
perseverance keeps hope alive. Amid all the challenges and uncertainties
of modern existence, and in the face of stern obstacles and enervating
setbacks, we need to keep moving forward, however tempting it might be
to give up and let go of our dreams. As Confucius once said, "It does
not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop."
perseverance is not simply constancy. Yes, we need to keep moving, but
only if we are headed in the right direction. It does us no good to keep
slogging into a quagmire. We must remember the difference between
studied conviction and mindless stubbornness. Obstinacy lacks the grace
and resilience of perseverance.
"The difference between
perseverance and obstinacy," explained the magisterial 19th century
minister Henry Ward Beecher, "is that one comes from a strong will, and
the other from a strong won't."
As we age, our aspirations become
harder to define and more elusive. In the face of confusion and
frustration, we find it tempting to quit or to settle for less. Our
goals plummet; mediocrity becomes seductive. Likewise, we cringe at the
chaos around us. We live in perilous times. Each day brings sobering
news from abroad. Stability and security seem to have vanished. What should we do?
1941, at the height of the Battle of Britain, when Nazi firepower
seemed overwhelming, Prime Minister Winston Churchill reminded Britons
that surrender was not an option. "Never give in," he told a group of
schoolchildren. "Never give in. Never, never, never, never in nothing,
great or small, large or petty never give in, except to convictions
of honour and good sense."
Churchill's stirring words retain
their force today. The inner passion of persistence, the indomitable
emotional commitment to a worthy goal or an ennobling cause, is an
empowering and liberating force. With the endurance buoyed by
conviction, we hurdle adversity; without it we stumble. With it we
discover the depths of our commitments; without it we tread water. With
it we are undaunted; without it we succumb to fear and exhaustion.
St. Paul urged the Galatians, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing; for
in due course we shall reap, if we faint not." So persevere. Do not
lose heart; do not be discouraged. Persistence is what we must have when
we have nothing else. And, as President Coolidge recognized,
persistence is omnipotent. Just ask my former student. But make sure to
address her as "Doctor." After 14 years of sustained effort, she has
earned the title and much more.