Perseverance, which can also be considered as determination or grit, is the quality of being able to keep working and applying effort towards a long-term goal. It has long been recognised as something important, even if it is rather out of fashion in a world of instant gratification. However, it remains important in career management terms as well as in life more generally.
This page describes how you can develop your ability to persevere, and how you might apply this skill in your life and particularly, in your career.
What is Perseverance?
Grit, also known as perseverance, is defined by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis in their book The Squiggly Career as the ability to apply sustained effort towards long-term goals.
They quote Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, which explains that skill is the result of talent multiplied by effort. In other words, talent by itself is not enough. You also have to be prepared to work to develop your talent into skills. Once you have developed your skills, you then apply further effort to achieve using those skills.
Perseverance is this willingness to apply effort over time to achieve some defined goal.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
Precisely how much effort do you need to put in to become ‘good’ at something?
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularised the concept that people who have reached peak performance have generally put in around 10,000 hours of practice and development time.
Does this mean that if you put in 10,000 hours, you will automatically be good at something?
The original research on this issue suggested that the results hinge on a concept called deliberate practice. This is defined as focusing very clearly on what you want to improve, finding the best way to do that, and then applying it even if it makes you uncomfortable or is hard. In other words, doing something badly, even for a very long time, will not help you to develop your skills!
Patience is the ability to wait calmly for something without repining about the delay. It is also defined as the ability to endure unpleasantness. It is implied in perseverance, as part of the ability to work towards a long-term goal despite problems and setbacks on the way.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks. It is therefore a key part of the ability to keep going towards a goal, whatever may happen on the way.
Perseverance is also closely linked to motivation, because if you are strongly motivated, you will find it easier to keep going towards your goals.
In their book The Squiggly Career, Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis identified grit or perseverance as one of the three essential skills needed to create and then take advantage of future opportunities. They therefore see it as an important way to ‘future-proof’ your career.
Many other successful people, over many years, have also highlighted the importance of perseverance in career or other success.
Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.
Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Four Ways to Improve Your Perseverance
How can you improve your perseverance? A children’s hymn from the early 20th century suggested that it was a sign of grace or virtue.
“Give us grace to persevere.”
Percy Dearmer, in the children’s hymn Jesu, Good Above All Other
However, graces and virtues can all be developed, and it is possible to work on your perseverance. For example, our pages on patience and resilience suggest ways that you can develop both these attributes—and doing so will certainly help to improve your perseverance.
However, Tucker and Ellis also suggested four other ways to improve your perseverance, independently of either patience or resilience. They were talking about in career terms—but these suggestions also apply to life more generally. Their suggestions are:
1. Focus on what interests you
This may sound obvious—but it is also clearly true that you will be more likely to persevere towards a goal or with an activity that interests you. It is extremely hard to keep going with something difficult that you do not like doing.
Sometimes you do have to do things you don’t like, at least in the short-term. You might need to keep your job for the sake of the income, or because it offers other benefits that you need.
However, life is generally too short to pursue goals that do not interest you.
Instead, focus your energies on what really matters to you, and you will find that your ability to persevere has grown miraculously.
2. Take small steps to improve every day
It is easier to keep going if you can see that you are making progress.
Ellis and Tucker suggest that you should identify something new each day that you will do to improve, or make progress towards your goals—and then make sure that you do it.
3. Find a greater purpose in what you are doing
Many people find it easier to motivate themselves at home or at work if they see what they are doing as linked to a ‘higher purpose’.
Some entrepreneurs have explicitly said that they were driven by the need to do something for their communities. However, your ‘higher purpose’ doesn’t have to be especially noble. It is perfectly reasonable to think of work as being a way to pay for your children’s university education, or to set aside money for a family holiday.
4. Develop a ‘growth mindset’
Mindset emerged from the work of Carol Dweck at Stanford University. She found that people either had a ‘fixed’ or a ‘growth’ mindset:
Those with a fixed mindset believed that talent was innate, and it was impossible to achieve without it or to develop your skills much beyond a fixed point.
Those with a growth mindset believed that they could develop their skills, and were always looking for ways to improve.
There is more about this idea in our page on mindsets. You can develop a growth mindset by focusing on the question, ‘What can I do to improve?’, rather than ‘How well did I do?’
A Final Word
There is a pervading idea that ‘winners don’t give up’. This is linked to the concept of perseverance at all costs.
However, out of context, the idea of ‘never giving up’ is a dangerous fallacy. You don’t—or shouldn’t—stay in an abusive relationship just to avoid ‘giving up’ on it. Similarly, if your goals cease to excite you, it is perfectly reasonable to move on to something else. That’s not a problem of perseverance. It’s common sense.
People with perseverance don’t give up their long-term pursuit of a goal that excites and interests them. However, they do give up other things when the situation warrants it.
Knowing when and what to give up—and therefore where to focus your energy—is a key part of perseverance.