Perseverance – how much is enough?

  • Post category:Psychology
  • Reading time:7 mins read

Perseverance is something which comes up a lot in motivational/inspirational texts, audios or videos. People who promote this factor would just keep on going about it by using many single liners. Many of those I am sure you have heard before. E.g. “When going gets tough, the tough gets going”. Or some would give examples about people who had a lot of perseverance. One of the famous example is Edison for not giving up. One of the recent popular example is Jack Ma for keep on trying. These statements or references probably can make some people feel like a loser or identify themselves as a quitter.

It is not just that only people giving speeches on TED or making youtube videos or the ones still writing books talk about it. There are many movies made around this topic. Many ways to promote this idea are used. By giving positive examples, using negative examples, by telling anecdotes, some old mythological stories or even some are used in kid’s story book. It is like if one has everything but this attribute, a person is doomed in life. The story will isolate that one single person who showed the perseverance in human history and would expect every single one to have that same level of this characteristic. If the person fails to develop it, then (s)he just cannot expect anything in life. Every aspect of an individual’s life may be tagged a failure. But is it really that important an attribute?

I don’t think so. First of all these articles or videos are mostly made like a product sales campaign. The campaign that says that my carbonated drink is the best in the world. Or that my cream will make you the most beautiful in the world and nothing else matters. They need to highlight that point to make sales and attract customers. But as usual in life, things do not exist alone. Life is nothing more than complex connections among myriad of objects and their activities. A person is just one perspective on that phenomenon. Let’s look at few of the ways why just perseverance does not help at all.

Edison had already tried 9,000 experiments and hadn’t yet found a solution. When his friend, Mallory commented about the lack of results, Edison promptly responded, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

Do you think any researcher today will give this answer to his funding source?

The definition

As per the Oxford online dictionary perseverance is defined as “the quality of continuing to try to achieve a particular aim despite difficulties”. However when authors bring perseverance on the stage, sometimes events are modified or described in a way that it looks like it is only about perseverance. There are probably many other cases, but I take example of Jack Ma. It is easy to find his quotes or “posters” on internet today citing his failures and never to give up. But was all his failures about single aim? If it was the case may be he would still be applying for the Harvard!


Usually when motivators start their pitch they don’t like to mention of context and various situations around it. This is on purpose as otherwise it will dilute their message. If anyone reads or work on any research document then they can relate to this idea. The researchers do their experiments and write the findings with all the ifs and buts involved. They usually also mention shortcomings of their setup and what can be improved in future. However, the reporter has to make a headline and it would simply says, “scientist have proved that we are aliens“. The context in case of perseverance is the activity in question, the person, the economic and social situations, current politics and so on.

He did give up on Harvard, right?

The failure

The stories are always about the successes obtained due to perseverance. No one mentions about the stories of failure that happened due to perseverance. You would only find a statement about Messi saying, “I worked for 1X years for my success”. This is of course about perseverance. But what about those who also worked hard in their field and never made it to the top? E.g. would we say that Kodak, one of the biggest film company, kept its perseverance towards being the leader in film based cameras? I don’t think any one would describe that story or many similar stories that way. Rather it would be tagged on other negative sounding attributes.


I am using time as a single unit that also include effort in it. Effort in terms of material, financial and personal resources. No one ever mentions while making their sales pitch how long you should keep up with you perseverance. No one likes to mention that one needs to evaluate at certain times and say, “Enough is enough. I have spent enough time, maybe it is better to move on to something else”. There is no formula to decide it, so better let’s just skip mentioning it. E.g. if you have started a novel and after about 50 pages you think you are not enjoying it, would you keep reading the rest of 500 pages of it?

The individual

Although individual is a part of a big network, but still the marketing agents of perseverance love to bring an individual at the centre stage. However, they very easily leave out all the nuances that comes with an individual. They are happy to describe and treat an individual as a product coming out of a machine where every product is identical to the next. Unfortunately, it is not true for people or in general living beings. We all have somethings that we are born with and somethings that shaped our lives. There is no denying that people, for different reasons, are good or bad at certain things. Perseverance is just one of those things. If we take the example of reading a novel from the last paragraph, then the result will depend  on an individual and it circumstances. If one can read 200+ pages an hour then probably it does not harm to spend a couple of hours; maybe the story may take a twist. If one is a slow reader, then it might be a better idea to pick another one. On the contrary if that is the only book you have and you are stuck somewhere with nothing else to do, then why not.

Does it mean we value perseverance less than before?

These are just few of the perspectives to realize why any single characteristic in itself is just useless. If you just keep on digging a hole in a desert thinking that with perseverance you will find water, it is a stupidity. The same applies to many different aspects of life. Choosing a field of profession, education, sports, music, relationships and even life in general. Even when a person tries to make someone smile, that person does not just go blind on perseverance. One needs to evaluate against the effort vs the result in the context of situation and people involved and values they have for each other in their lives. However, if the person you are trying to bring smile to is yourself, then take all the perseverance you can and apply it without end. That smile will be worth any time and effort that you spend on it.

Keep Smiling



Mulla Nasrudin’s family was upset because the girl he was planning to marry was an atheist. “We’ll not have you marrying an atheist,” his mother said. “What can I do? I love her,” the young Nasrudin said. “Well,” said his mother, “if she loves you, she will do anything you ask. You should talk religion to her. If you are persistent, you can win her over.” Several weeks went by, then one morning at breakfast the young Mulla seemed absolutely brokenhearted. “What’s the matter?” his mother asked. “I thought you were making such good progress in your talks about religion to your young girlfriend.” “THAT’S THE TROUBLE,” said Nasrudin. I OVER DID IT. LAST NIGHT SHE TOLD ME SHE WAS SO CONVINCED THAT SHE IS GOING TO STUDY TO BE A NUN.”

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