The Power of Perseverance

January 2, 2021

Failure is a passing thing for those who get up and try again.

Per· se· ver· ance | \ ˌpər-sə-ˈvir-ən(t)s  \

continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition: the action or condition or an instance of persevering: steadfastness

Perseverance. It’s not something we’re really taught, and sometimes we’re not even sure we have it—until we’re called upon to dig deep and find it.

For me, one of those times was during my medical training. Before starting medical school, I knew it would be tough, but little did I know just how tough. Between medical school, internship, and residency, I endured things that I would have previously said I could not.

Training required sacrificing time with family, having long days and late nights—and even nights with no sleep at all. It required learning and regurgitating massive amounts of information with a sleep-deprived brain, working while having pneumonia so as not to burden others with my responsibilities, being humiliated and yelled at by residents and attendings, and being threatened by patients “who knew people.”

Training in inner-city Philadelphia meant that murders, stabbings, robberies, and drug overdoses were the norm. There was even a bombing at the 7-Eleven down the street. Security had to frequently be called to deal with a belligerent patient, or walk us to our cars when our shifts were over.

Most days during internship, I was too busy to even take a two-minute bathroom break, let alone stop for food or water. With the motto of “see one, do one, teach one,” I had to learn, on the spot, how to inject, poke and prod patients by day, while by night, I had to learn, with only one other equally scared intern, how to manage a floor full of ill patients. My program was known to be hardcore, and this was part of being “thrown into the fire,” as they called it.

While going through it all, there were times when I questioned if I could make it. But I didn’t let my mind think too much on it. I just did what I had to do.

Looking back, I’m not even sure how I did it. The important thing is, somehow, I did.

I don’t attribute it to being intelligent or book-smart, to being savvy or having common sense, nor to any special gift.

I attribute it to perseverance.

What Perseverance Is Not

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, likens perseverance to grit. Grit, she says, is “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.”

Let’s first consider what perseverance, or grit, is not. Duckworth says, “Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.”

It’s not impulsivity, nor laziness or complacency, and it’s not being afraid of failure or rejection. It’s not being stopped by uncertainty or what you don’t know, and it’s not being hampered by hardship.

What Perseverance Is

It’s said that perseverance is one of the greatest attributes a person can possess.

In fact, religions tout its virtue. The Bible says, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4), while the Buddha declared, “Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it’s to the one who endures that the final victory comes.”

Perseverance, or grit, implies a certain ruggedness, a mental toughness, an ability to suffer and endure the most difficult of hardships. It’s the ability to get up, brush yourself off, and find a path forward, despite what the naysayers may say, and even what our own minds may say.

Perseverance is trusting in the face of uncertainty and seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s a belief that sometimes defies logic and reason—a lesson Jedi Master Yoda teaches young Luke Skywalker in the iconic Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back.”

To demonstrate the error in Luke’s thinking, Yoda telekinetically lifts Luke’s starship from a murky swamp. Luke, who believed his ship was hopelessly lost, exclaims, “I don’t believe it!”

“That is why you fail,” Yoda replies.

It’s Good for Your Health

Not only does perseverance help us achieve our goals, it also improves our health.

A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, which followed thousands of Americans over an 18-year period, found that those who had higher levels of perseverance and optimism had less depression and anxiety than their counterparts.

Nur Hani Zainal, lead author of the study, told Science Daily, “Perseverance cultivates a sense of purposefulness that can create resilience against or decrease current levels of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.”

“Our findings suggest that people can improve their mental health by raising or maintaining high levels of tenacity, resilience, and optimism.”

Perseverance can also help us stick to healthy routines, such as eating a good diet or exercising. And while even those who are determined may fall off track, they pick themselves up and get back to it.

People who are determined are also more likely to push through pain or other challenging health problems and still achieve their goals.

Drawing Inspiration From Others

We learn the skill of perseverance through practicing it and through watching others demonstrate determined behavior.

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