Ode to Perseverance

Staying mentally strong during your job search is foundational to your success.

Applying for a job is often demanding. requiring time, energy, and patience throughout the process.  At times you will be convinced that you will never earn another paycheck for the rest of your life.  Your ego will feel like it has been sacked by an NFL tight end. Your spirits will fall like you have been pummeled by a wrecking ball.  You will experience all the energy of a dead battery. You will be tempted to conclude that there must be something terribly wrong with you or your professional background; maybe you should search immediately for a prime spot under the nearest bridge.  It is easy to fall into a world-class funk.

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself or making bleak assumptions about your future, this is the time to practice perseverance.  By perseverance, I do not mean invoking clichés such as “hang tough,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “gut it out,” “never quit,” or “grin and bear it.”  Perseverance does not come from adages or bromides; it comes from our inner selves.

I recently spoke to a woman who was hired at an HR executive after several months of job searching.  She said that she “had to wait her turn.”  I thought this remark was odd.  I had never considered that people looking for a job had to stand in line for a period of time until they reached the box office.  Yet there is some wisdom and reality in her comment.  It is rare for someone to move from one job to another seamlessly.  There is generally a gap.  Whether you are a newbie charging out of the gates or a battle-scarred veteran changing jobs, the vast majority of people have to “wait their turn.”  I believe that during this time, perseverance is an extremely valuable mental trait to employ.

Once you have decided your purpose in the workplace or life, perseverance is an essential quality in achieving it.  It is rare that anyone accomplishes a goal without facing obstacles, barriers, and unforeseen problems.  Sometimes they seem insurmountable.  This is where perseverance comes to our rescue.   Perseverance invokes our emotional and intellectual self-control.  It helps us eliminate fear, self-deception, uncertainty, insecurity, and apprehension.  It allows doubt to be replaced by conviction, foreboding to be replaced by confidence.

At times your job search may resemble the myth of Sisyphus.  Sisyphus in Greek mythology was a man who labored mightily to push a heavy stone up a hill.  When the stone reached the apex of the hill, it rolled down the other side, and the process goes on endlessly.  At times like this, when you may be in the thrall of dismay, it is vital never to lose faith in yourself or your talents or your ability to find an outstanding job.  You have faced challenges in the past and have seen the power of perseverance.  You have seen the strength of your willpower, the force of your mind, and the efficacy of your actions.

Perseverance should not be seen as an ancillary quality, something we only think about when we see television spots highlighting the tenacity and grit of wounded soldiers or injured athletes working to bring their muscles back to normal.  Perseverance is an essential quality to possess not only in your job search but also in your job success.  It gives you the confidence that you will be able to overcome obstacles standing between you and your goals because you have done so in the past.  It assures that you will not fear challenges because you know you can meet them.  In a recent, acclaimed publication, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth wrote that grit and perseverance are often more powerful characteristics in achieving one’s goals than intelligence, education, or innate abilities.  My experience confirms her observation.  I have seen countless individuals with determination, inner strength, tenacity, and dedication achieve greater success than people with high IQs and impressive professional experience.

The rarified realm of highly successful people is replete with examples of perseverance and tenacity.  J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has recently surpassed Oprah Winfrey and Queen Elizabeth as the richest woman in the world.  Success, however, did not come easily or quickly.  Her first Harry Potter book was rejected by twelve different publishers.  Even the small publishing firm that bought her manuscript for $2,000 warned her to prepare for disappointment.

She received virtually no encouragement; in fact, fate or the gods (take your pick) somberly lined up to block her every attempt at success.  While she was writing, she went through a messy divorce and subsisted with her daughter on welfare. When her mother died, she was left with no support network.  She became severely depressed.  During these bleak times, however, she never lost faith in herself or her project.  She learned to rely on herself. “Give up,” “surrender,” “submit,” and “withdraw” were not in her vocabulary. “Perseverance” was.  She is now worth approximately $15 billion.

Perseverance may also turn one’s life around even after a severe failure.  Simon Cowell, who you may have seen on “American Idol” or “The X-Factor,” became successful after years of struggle and misadventure.  At age 16, he dropped out of school, had a variety of dead-end jobs, and, as they say in England, “had no prospects.”  He got a low-level job in the mailroom of EMI Music Publishing, where he enjoyed some success.  He left to form his own publishing company, E&S Music.  Unfortunately, the company went belly-up after one year, and Cowell was left with debt and no credit.  At age 30, he moved in with his parents.  He became a waiter in Elton John’s restaurant.

He may have had bad luck or misfortune or suffered from poor choices, but he never gave up on his dream to become a music producer and publisher.  He found a job at Fanfare Records, a small company, and helped the organization become successful.  He assiduously searched for talented performers and signed them to Fanfare before they became famous.  The rest, as they say, is history.

In an age of cynicism, short cuts, and negativity, I find the stories of Rowling and Cowell refreshing and reassuring.  They did not blame their early adverse conditions on anyone; they did not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by problems; they did not rationalize away their misfortunes; and they did not let setbacks define them.   To me the most important element in their stories is that they had perseverance: they never gave up, they never abandoned their dreams, they never allowed themselves to fail, and they never lost faith in themselves.

When I think about characteristics that lead to success, I cannot think of a more profound, meaningful, or influential habit of the mind than perseverance.  It is not an end in itself but an attitude that allows you to accomplish your goals, no matter the obstacles or mountains to climb.  It places success in your hands.  While you are waiting for your turn, remember the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Related Perspectives:

Share This