In our toss aside, throw away, late-breaking-news world, the word persistence shows up somewhere between “tedium,” and “yawn.” But rather than focusing on the word’s lack of glitz and glamour, it’s important to remember the power it holds.
“You don’t start out writing good stuff,” says Octavia Butler. “You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
A supervisor at a stressful nonprofit job once complimented me on my tenaciousness. “You’re pleasantly persistent,” she said as I called a client yet again, for clarifying information. But it’s taken me many years (many, many) to realize that persistence is a habit that one cultivates, not a trait one is born with.
I don’t know about you but patience is not one of my virtues. For a long time I wasn’t persistent with many things in my life because I didn’t have the fortitude to keep going for the long haul. I had lots of dreams—pages and pages of them—but I was lacking the oomph to maintain the enthusiasm needed to see things through.
In lieu of patience, however, many of us have been given other skills (thank God!). I happen to be very
hard-headed determined once I make my mind up to do something. It may take quite a while to get to the point where the decision is made, but once it is I will work hard and keep my “eyes on the prize” until it’s finally in my hands.
In 2012, I made the decision to finish my novel, Epidemic, which had been languishing at various points in the publication process since I finished the first draft in 2008. I told myself that no matter what I would hold a completed draft in my hands by December 31st. And you know what? It worked!
I have a great tip for the “how” part of the persistence process which I’ll share with you next time. But for now take a few minutes of time and think about what it is you truly, utterly want. To publish your first book? Become a New York Times bestseller? To run a marathon or get that corner office at work? To learn to bake the same amazing lemon cake only your mother makes?
Whatever it is you want most this year, imagine what it will be like when you’re in that moment: standing at the podium receiving the award, reading your name in the paper while sipping champagne, or pulling that cake from the oven perfectly golden and smelling like heaven.