Friday, August 17, 2012


Persistence. The dictionary defines it as continuing "steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition." While sometimes equated with being annoying or stubborn, being persistent is in fact a character strength.

I learned about persistence at a young age. Growing up near Niagara Falls, we learned that originally there was no Falls - the Niagara River created the Falls as it eroded layers of rock formation. Then, when the Falls developed, they weren't at the present location, but quite a bit further East. The river has continued to erode the rock, and the Falls have moved an average of 3 feet West per year. Engineering efforts have managed to slow this erosion to 1 foot a year - but not to stop it. Eventually, the rock will erode all the way to Lake Erie, and the Falls will no longer exist.

From Niagara, we learn that while rock may seem stronger than water, water wears away rock through persistent effort over time. The same lesson applies to our lives. The one who prevails (in all sorts of endeavors) is often not the one who initially seems strongest, but rather the one who is most persistent.

Persistence is a vital part of resilience. Remember that resilient does not mean free of problems, but able to overcome or grow from them. Nobody is free of problems. The trick in life is to persist in spite of problems - to outlast them.

Persistence is something we try to help our clients embody...but it's also something we frequently need ourselves. Of course, I've known this all along, but  have come to appreciate it more fully by watching my supervisor in action. When she feels strongly about a course of action, she is indefatigable in her persistence. She takes this approach in advocating for clients' needs with intractable insurance companies, and in advocating for the program's needs with money-conscious upper management at our company.

And she gets results. The key seems to be the combination of patience (knowing that change people's minds takes time), confidence in her stance, and diligence in keeping the issue on the table. While I can be tempted to catastrophize and abandon what seem like losing battles, I have also learned that persistence pays off. Sometimes that means keeping on in spite of fears - or even evidence - that it's a losing battle. Acting "as if" the desired outcome will happen may be the key to getting the desired end result.

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