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I have a friend who is in college as a mature student. She works hard at her studies and does well, but she told me that in group projects many of her younger classmates give up easily.
They shrug it off by saying that maybe they’re just not smart enough, or they aren’t willing to work harder to achieve more, not seeing value in putting in more effort.
Some may say that these are plausible reasons for not persisting. Others may claim that this is a generational difference, that today’s kids are lazy and don’t have the work ethic adults do. But to me the answer isn’t so straightforward. I believe that we can be motivated, whatever our age, to do better and to persevere.
These words come from Albert Einstein: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
While I suspect he was not giving full credit to his own intellect, his legendary perseverance is worth emulating. In contrast, lots of smart people lack that quality and accomplish little. It’s just as true that lots of intellectually average people make significant contributions to life and learning through their willingness to apply themselves, whether solving a problem or learning a new skill.
Along those lines, I often remind myself of a quotation from Baha’u’llah: “Rest assured and persevere.” – The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 156.
It tells me to be confident in my efforts and to keep trying. Shoghi Effendi offered similar encouragement, writing “The end is glorious if we only persevere.” – Arohauni—Letters to New Zealand, p. 22.
Of course we will always encounter obstacles and troubles. Do I let that stop me? Am I determined to do whatever it takes? Am I confident? Am I happy for the challenge and grateful for the opportunity? Am I adaptable, willing to try new ways to reach my goals?
I think another element of perseverance is humility. To admit that I don’t know how to do something and that I must take time to learn can be humbling, especially in a situation where I might have thought at the outset that I was ready to do it. But the point is that all of us—even Albert Einstein—need to persevere to accomplish goals without being afraid to not-know.
Since people tend to learn in different ways, for some of us that means learning through our mistakes. If I’m not willing to take a humble approach to learning and accept mistakes as useful feedback, then I will be shortchanging myself and will probably fail.
Being engaged in this entire process also requires optimism, which includes believing in the existence of a solution to the problem or a way to accomplish the goal. Einstein didn’t persevere without trust in the outcome. He had better things to do. Don’t we all?
Sometimes we need to be detached, by which I mean having a willingness to stop or redefine the goal. No matter how hard I try, I’m not going to be a professional ballet dancer, but I can learn to dance. I’m probably not going to be CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, but I can help a local organization find new ways to raise funds. I’m not apt to compete in the Olympics, though I can improve my running speed and endurance. With this approach, I can always win my own one-person race. Life is not a competition, after all—instead, life means achieving what we each can.
Fortunately, not everything in life is a huge undertaking. That would be exhausting, to say the least. In contrast, making a hearty effort; to commit to problem-solving or innovating; and to succeed on my own terms: that is exhilarating—at any age.