As the old man stood steadily before the university graduates, they quieted with respectful attention. His years of experience forging a commercial dynasty elicited admiration in business minds from Wall Street to the classroom. He had decades of hands-on wisdom and keen leadership skills honed by the emotionless bottom line of profit statements and the necessity of converting untrained rookies into dynamic producers. The man had seen it all, had been through the fire of business competition and regulation, and he had emerged with one of the leading financial empires of the era and with the well-known respect of his shareholders and employees.
His opening statement to the graduates drew the total focus of the crowd.
“I have one question for you today. Do you want to stand out? As you leave this university and enter the workforce, do you want to distinguish yourself from your competitors? In the business world, you will be evaluated by a different set of standards. You will be viewed through the dispassionate lens of the impact you render. So, what you are about to hear is the most important information you have been given during all your years of education.
Two qualities are required of both the exceptional leader and the outstanding employee to distinguish themselves from the hundreds of thousands of others in their field. Number one: you must possess integrity. Number two: you must own the traits of persistence and perseverance. To put it simply, you must do what you say you will do, and you must have a consistent, productive work ethic.”
This advice is applicable not only for those starting their careers, but it is also relevant to anyone who wants to set himself apart from his competition and his peers. No longer will your education alone be the differentiator. Your contemporaries are equally educated. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2016 over 3.2 million students graduated with a college degree. Of that number, almost 1.2 million received master’s or doctorate degrees. There is no substitute for education, but just being educated will not provide significant differentiation. No longer will your creativity set you apart; the artist and inventor will starve without a working business model.
To stand out, the formula is simple: integrity plus hard-working tenacity. Half of this blueprint for success is based on who you are—your integrity. The other half is based on what you do—learning the importance of and mastering the practices of persistence and perseverance. It is vital to understand the difference between these two characteristics and then to see how they act fully in tandem. Once that understanding is reached, it is critical to put these traits into practice daily.
The sage Siri will tell you the definition of persistence is the fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. Persistence is ‘keeping on keeping on.’ Persistence is making calls over and over. Persistence is directing your team again and again until excellence becomes ingrained. Persistence is working your plan even when you don’t see immediate results. Persistence is consistent effort, maintained daily.
Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Persistence is not giving up, or giving in, or giving way. Persistence is not grabbing something new just because it is shiny. Although processes and systems should be continually evaluated for improvements and for effectiveness, persistence is not reorganizing your structures every three months when you see someone else’s success and think you should emulate them. Persistence is not expecting to hit millionaire status immediately. To covet wealth without persistent effort is to have a ‘hope to win the lottery’ mentality. But lottery winners don’t have a stellar track record of keeping their wealth. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, about 70 percent of people who win a lottery or get a big windfall end up broke in a few years. There is an apparent correlation between the qualities that build wealth and the ability to maintain it. One of those vital qualities is persistence.
Perseverance is doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Perseverance is continued persistence. Think of it like this. Persistence is the athlete, working out each morning in the gym. He continues to get up, get to the gym, and work his routine, even when he is tired, even when his friends are still sleeping, even when his schedule is interrupted. Perseverance is the lifestyle of working out week after week, month after month, year after year. Persistent running water erodes rock; persevering in that erosion pattern creates canyons.
In short, persistence speaks to continuing in a course of action even against opposition, and perseverance connotes longevity in that persistence. Together, these are the twin building blocks of success.
Do you have these traits of persistence and perseverance in your professional life? In some areas you most likely do. What specific discipline have you consistently performed week after week, month after month, year after year? Perhaps you make a point to turn in your reports a day early. Perhaps you participate in a new employee mentorship program. Perhaps you’ve taken on the responsibility of planning company team building exercises. You are persistent in this activity and your longevity has created perseverance. When you are persistent, you push through adversity, you stick with the project until it’s complete, and you don’t look for the easy way out. The persistent professional will persevere and will live out the familiar quote, “Don’t stop when you’re tired; stop when you’re done.”
Do you want to stand out? The formula is simple, and the rewards are boundless.
About the author
Dave Martin, Your Success Coach, is a world-renowned speaker and the international best-selling author of 12 Traits of the Greats and Another Shot. For over 25 years, Dave has been a mentor, inspirational speaker, coach, and business leader. Using these experiences, Dave shares timeless truths, wrapped in humor and delivered with passion, teaching people how to pursue and possess a life of success. For more information on Dave, please visit www.davemartin.org.