For me, perseverance is an interesting character strength to explore. 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 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 the 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 by merely 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… I defined perseverance 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 merely looking out for each other and 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 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 daily.
As I moved on to built a startup agency from scratch, that determination to deliver excellent services had to be taken to an extreme level. When you start to develop 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 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 limitations and slowly, gradually building up my contingency: learning new parts of the business, growing my competency as a business leader, building new products and marketing them wisely. I am learning to balance private and work life, and adding a pinch of self-care to the mix. I am working out mechanisms and networks that would hold me through difficult times. I am learning to trust people and yourself. I am 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 profound and challenging conversations. In the journeys down the rabbit hole of our 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. I have to ensure that I can be well enough to support others effectively.
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 excellent support in times of need. Perseverance brings results, but the process is slow. It takes its time. It makes us wait. Waiting can be challenging if we are not used to it.
This post became a different list, I feel. Today I would like to finish it off with a useful metaphor. About a year ago, my family took on a large allotment plot in Bristol. We were fortunate 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 offered their crops to cheer us up. We had small vegetables that we cherished. We complained. We hated the project at times. However, step-by-step, we got the work done. It was hard but rewarding. It was challenging, but we did not give up. I bet if it were 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, however, believe 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 need to find it in us.