Life that Works: Perseverance is the Winner

February 11th, 2011

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”  -Calvin Coolidge

Tonight I heard Meg Wheatley talk about the power of persevering.  She has been working at the challenging tasks of social change for decades.  Her work has brought her into situations with people who were fighting for decades for what they believed.  Social change is a slow process, one that is measured in lifetimes, and is funded by people who have one single quality above all others: the ability to stay with their vision even when it is not fashionable,  even when it is dangerous and could cost their lives.

Some of these stories of staying power are legendary. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi,  Mother Theresa… These are the iconic figures that inspire, but also seem out of reach. For all the sacrificing that I have done for my little business of love, I have never had to sleep one night in a jail cell, or go hungry or sit in the room of the deathly ill. Still, if I have done anything right, it has been in my steadfast commitment to stay, to come back one more day and see what might happen next.

Perseverance is actually the trait that wins the day in lives that will never be recorded for posterity. Finding the courage to show up day after day comes from a combination of fearlessness and compassion. Fearlessness is not the absence of fear, rather it is the willingness to be with your fears, to let them sit beside you without the urge to run.   Compassion is where our capacity to love enlarges our heart big enough to know that our actions are not just for us, but for the people we love, for people we may not even know.

This special combination of traits and beliefs gives one big advantage to those who don’t quit- the capacity to act without any guarantee of a win. T.S. Eliot once wrote, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”  The effort and knowing that you are working towards an end that has goodness, regardless of the outcome, is the silver lining in a life that perseveres. I go back to the business of love every day because I know that what I do makes a difference somewhere, and that the world needs whatever love can be poured into it.

The more that I can allow the effort and the journey be the reward, the more joy there is in the doing. From this place, quitting has no appeal. When my journey is consumed by some necessary outcome, then all I want is out. As always, how I think of it and what I believe I am doing is everything. I just want to keep making love possible.

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