For me personally, perseverance is an interesting character strength to write about. I used to think of myself as more of a free spirit and a person who would start a million things and finish a few. I did not stick to my own plan most of the time. I changed directions and jumped from one project to another. I did loads and managed to fit in even more. But I was more interested in innovation than steady, determined reaching of goals.
When I became a mother I was already trained in psychology enough to understand that a certain level of stability is necessary to create a safe space for a child. So I would define perseverance differently – not as finishing what we started but simply by showing up, being there for that small person, standing like a rock when their world was shifting between various stages of their development. Holding them through their illness and personal failures. Holding their hand when they learned to walk. Perseverance to me was then defined on a slightly different level: being reliable and constant, regardless of what life threw at us. (Don’t confuse it with rigid rules, I don’t agree with those as they need to be mutually negotiated). I guess I started seeing my life through the eyes of a small boy who had to learn to express himself, take his few first steps, walk into school on that first day and from there continue on his journey. Perseverance was our way of meeting somewhere in between the lines of our two identities and simply looking out for each other. Not giving up on each other.
At work, it was the challenges that defined my definition of never giving up. Working in the first social media agency in the country meant that a lot of what we did in those early days of a new industry was based on trial and error. The great thing about that, as we all quickly discovered, was the person-centred approach to blogger engagement and online conversations. Those of us who worked in social media back then had to figure it all out together with bloggers and online users, go back to big brands and serve as the voice of people. We were actively defining and renegotiating the rules of online engagement (for example sending trial gadgets to bloggers to review them on their websites or simply get involved in our events and online campaigns). None of it was automated. All of it required a high level of determination and personal ownership of our work on a daily basis.
As I moved on to built a startup agency from scratch, that determination to deliver good services had to be taken to an extreme level. When you start to build a new brand you have nothing but the personal reputation of the people who came up with the idea and their networks. In our case, we were lucky to have enough of that. I knew the agency world already so many usual pitfalls of a starting up company could be avoided. But to persevere in the first few months, years even meant to look out for each other, think really carefully about each step and be patient.
Moving to my own business was my next big step. I did not realise the price one pays for running their own business (as well as the range of benefits, of course). Not giving up this time meant facing my own limitations and slowly, gradually building up my own contingency. Learning parts of the business I was not familiar with. Growing my independent competency. Building new products and marketing them wisely. Learning to balance private and work life, and adding a pinch of self-care to the mix. Actually a lot of it! Working out mechanisms and networks that would hold me through risky times. Learning to trust people and yourself. Learning to manage the company together with my family life too.
When I started my therapy studies perseverance was there in those late evening and really deep and challenging conversations. In the journeys down the rabbit hole of our own mind. In piles of books. More importantly, in the vast amount of touching stories people shared with me. Stories I had to learn to hold for them to help their healing. Learning to clear my mind and move beyond my biases became my new form of perseverance. Not giving up on myself became my priority to ensure that I can support others too.
I cannot even describe how hard it is to find the right balance between social media marketing and counselling. One is historically loud, open, vocal and engaging. The other is quiet, silent even, holding and actively listening. But as I found it now – both depend on deep trust between human beings. Both define our humanity. Both can be conducted unethically and damage us to our core but if done well, liberate and reconnect us with ourselves and our communities.
I am finding a lot of reasons to continue combining both worlds and so perseverance is something I am practising more often. It serves me as a new muscle – one that needs to be exercised but brings great support in times of need.
Perseverance brings results, but not fast. It takes its time. It makes us wait while it matures. It grows around us and within us. In the long run, it really pays off.
This post became a different list, I feel. Today I would like to finish it off with a practical metaphor. About a year ago my family took on a large allotment plot in Bristol. We were very lucky to get it fast but pretty overwhelmed with its size and terrible state. It took us a year of finding time in our busy lives to pop out to the plot and clear it out. It took us a year but we are getting there. It was a bumpy ride at times because we were up against Mother Nature too. Brambles grew faster than our digging attempts. Hot summer made it impossible to dig for weeks altogether. Seasons came and went but we stayed determined and committed. We had a vision from day one. We stayed focussed and hopeful. Bit by bit we worked our way through it.
We had help from other allotment owners who joined in or simply offered their crops just to cheer us up. We had small crops that we cherished. We complained, hated it at times. But we got the work done. It was hard but rewarding. It was challenging but we did not give up. I bet if it was easy we wouldn’t be enjoying the plot as much as we do now. We are excited about this summer in times when in the U.K. the overall feeling is pretty hopeless. We have a place to escape, to work from even, to rest and to stop for a second. We go there to reconnect with Earth, with people and with ourselves.
I do not think perseverance is one thing. I don’t think it is always helpful. I do think however that in difficult times having the skill of not giving up just so easily helps a lot. I feel this every time I sit out on our plot and take a sip of my coffee: We did it. We can do this. We can all do this – we just need to find it in us.