Absolutely nothing else matters if you don’t persevere

Definition ‘perseverance’: “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”

No matter how creative, ingenious or inventive you are, if you don’t persevere, you might as well not have any talent.

Bold statement and I’m sticking to it.

A couple months ago, my doorbell rang and I opened the door to find a young girl taking a survey. She wanted to know what people thought was the most important trait for success and entrepreneurship. On the list to chose from were traits such as Creativity, Imagination, Intelligence, Skill, Wealth, and so on.

I scanned the list thinking yes, those are all important. But none leapt out at me until near the bottom I spotted the word “Perseverance.” Without even thinking about it, I knew that was my choice so I told the girl “Perseverance.” I could see her little tic marks next to the other words people had chosen, especially Creativity, but no one else had chosen this word. So now I know my neighbors will never be entrepreneurs.

As Mr. Jobs said:

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Of course, I’m a firm believer in the importance of creativity, smarts, imagination, and all that stuff. But they aren’t the defining elements. They are firmly secondary. Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers (some sources say 43), claiming he wasn’t good at writing for children. (Could there really have been that many ignorant editors in a row?)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she had to self-publish the first 250 copies (the first Indie self publisher? Go Beatrix!) C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” was rejected 800 times before it was accepted! How is that even possible?!

Clearly, all of these people are so high in the lofty zone of creativity and intelligence as to leave the rest of us (or at least me!) gazing up at them in awe.

But the question is, why do we even know of these amazing people and their brilliant creations? You got it. Because, and only because, they persevered in their efforts and pursuits. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to submit a manuscript and face rejection 43 times, much less 800 frigging times? Many if not most would give up long before entering triple digits. But not Mr. Lewis – he is quoted saying that his rejections made him all the more determined. (‘Determination’ and ‘perseverance’ are close cousins in my book.)

Many years ago when people submitted children’s stories in via mail in manila envelopes to publishers in New York, I did my fair share of printing, stuffing and sending out manuscripts. I used to joke that I could wallpaper a bathroom, then a bedroom, then a house with my rejection letters.

When at last I did get acceptance letters for a few short stories, suddenly it all became worth it! And sometimes when the editor would say something nice about my story (specific enough so I knew they really had read it), but that they were looking for something else, I counted that a success and was on cloud 9 having gotten that personal acknowledgement. How that fueled my determination to persevere!

But sometimes, all we have to move ourselves forward is us as in, me. And you. Individually. Sometimes there isn’t an encouraging voice or letter to egg us on. Sometimes even our diligent efforts disappoint and aren’t that great. More work is needed to get where we want to go. And more. And more.

No matter how creative or brilliant we may be, if we don’t keep doing the “and more” and give up on pursuing our goals and dreams, no one is ever the wiser and never will know what great thing or invention or book or painting that never hit the light of day.

And trust me, giving up is not a formal thing. It’s simply letting each day, week, and year slip by without doing anything to accomplish our creative goals. The half-finished novel draft molding in a drawer or languishing on a hard drive is meaningless in the shadows.

On the other hand, folks who may not have been blessed out of the shute w/ the level of creative genius the likes of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Jobs have gone on to be incredibly successful simply because they didn’t give up. They persevered, they improved at their craft, and it eventually paid off. Even if something doesn’t get public accolade, doing it matters!

Have you ever known someone who was incredibly talented but they did nothing with their talent? How maddening it can be to watch someone take a creative gift for granted and squander year after year never doing anything with it. This is often true even when they say they want to, they mean to, they plan to….yeah yeah yeah. Nothing ever comes of it.

Uh-oh. Here’s where I have to get out the mirror because I’m feeling a little (a lot) convicted. Not because I’m ultra creative. But because I’m letting those days/weeks/years go by. Or at least I have been till lately. I always tell myself “what you have to say doesn’t matter to anyone else.” Possibly true!

Nevertheless, I’m observant enough to recognize that I was blessed with a modicum of creativity and it’s always pushing and prodding me to be expressed somehow. I’ve had a multitude of ideas for stories over the years that I keep dreaming and imagining that one day, I will write. I have written some of them. But many more words have arisen inside that have not seen the light of the backlit screen. I don’t even want to count how many years have gone by with this condition manifesting itself!

All the more curious, this has been true despite the fact that I really am one who perseveres in many areas. In fact, I’m pretty stellar at perseverance in just about every category except for my creative pursuits! How skewed is that?! And why is that? Because creativity is hard (at least, it is for me).

It’s hard to carve out the time amidst the myriad other things (and I’m talking legitimate “must do” things, not getting stuck playing candy crush for hours) that continually demand my attention. I keep thinking life will let up some day but guess what, it’s showing no signs of doing so. If I want to pursue my creative dreams, I’m going to have to do it, not outside, but in the midst of my chaotic life.

It’s harder still because I want my creative efforts to live up to my expectations and they never do! At least not at first. I know it takes work – more so than other tasks I need to do. And since my Type A personality needs to feel like I’ve accomplished something each day, I gravitate to the tasks that I know I can do and do well and even finish in a day! Allocating precious time from other pressing demands only to agonizingly produce something mediocre at the end of the effort often isn’t a huge draw.

All of these excuses prove the point that the key to expressing these creative goals of ours – stories, books, paintings, drawings, songs, you name it – is the huge, inescapable, undeniable, unavoidable need to cultivate Perseverance. I wish I could ingest a Vitamin P that would make me ooze Perseverance!

But, at the end of the day, it’s up to me. I need to push myself to make the time and the effort. And the upside is, even if it’s not a masterpiece, having worked at it for a dedicated amount of time feels good in its own right. I know it will get better if I keep working at it. Otherwise, the other option is I may as well concede defeat, let more time pass and forget it altogether.

Sigh. I can’t accept that so I guess I need to buckle down and drink my own Koolaid and push myself more. For me, the area to push is of course writing. For you, it may be that or maybe something else on the creative list. Whatever is it that you want to have done or at least tried before dying, perseverance is the only way to get there!

We’ve acknowledged that it’s hard. Yes, indeedy. I love this quote below by Winston Churchill. I don’t think he had creative writing pursuits in mind when he said it, but it applies nonetheless!

“If you are going through hell, keep going.”  ― Winston Churchill

Excuse me, but I think have some more writing to do…..