Persistence Pays

In my last piece, I told people not to hold on—and I meant it. But I didn’t intend for all of us to let go of everything we’re working toward—although letting go of long-cherished goals, and even mastery, has its place as well. I do, indeed, believe in the familiar old adage “persistence pays.”

We have to persevere in many areas, of course: losing weight, saving money, learning a skill, getting an education, holding together a valued relationship (many precautions apply here, as you might guess), healing ourselves of whatever plagues us, etc. etc.

As Winston Churchill (age 67) said at the Harrow School in 1941 when the war was on: “Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Clearly, here, in one of the great speeches of history, Prime Minister Churchill is talking about an urgent matter, a matter that resulted in his being known as the outstanding leader he undoubtedly was. For England to give in to Germany was unthinkable. The aim in fighting the war and the threat of the outcomes should England lose were always on Churchill’s mind.

Similarly, we have issues in our own lives that may spark a sense of ongoing urgency. We have objectives that are worthy of persistence—the need to heal an illness, for example. Actor Christopher Reeve, after a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed, became as well known for his efforts at recovery and for championing the cause of such recoveries, as he was for his acting career. Though Reeve never did walk again, he made unusual strides. He said, after a study of his brain waves that showed his incredible resilience, “…there are no absolutes, and patients should be encouraged to push as far as they can.” (

This is a different kind of “holding on” than maintaining a death grip on what we think is ours or that we should have, but which doesn’t really belong to us.

But how do we know the difference?

I don’t think determining when you should let go versus when you should persist is so very difficult.

If other people are kicking you in the shins and saying, “Let go. You’re hurting me,” then very likely you should let go. (Not in all cases, of course—just actual harm to someone else.)

If the only person you might damage by sticking with your objective is you, then you have to determine how badly you could injure yourself in the process of continuing, and how realistic you believe achieving your goal is. I’m thinking of people who keep on keeping on when their chance of getting anywhere is zero. Of course, that’s totally in my own view, whereas they might sacrifice everything and actually succeed beyond their (and my) wildest dreams. Or they might learn enormous amounts about their passion and about self-discipline even if they never get anywhere at all.

So don’t listen to me. Fight the good fight if you’re led to—though possibly you’ll be better off letting go every once in a while and seeing if your dream returns to you.

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