Nothing Can Take the Place of Persistence (True?)

I ran across this quote today and realized it’s a topic I blog about often:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men 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)

How I feel about persistence depends on which day you ask me:

What do you think? It certainly sounds silly to say persistence doesn’t matter, but perhaps it can be overemphasized. Certainly, though, chance favors the prepared. (Go read the first pages of The Other 8 Hours—the story about Mark & Sarah stranded on remote islands.)

There’s one book I adore that speaks to many of these dilemmas of the writer’s life: Page After Page by Heather Sellers. Go check it out.

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15 thoughts on “Nothing Can Take the Place of Persistence (True?)

  1. Tyrean

    Persistence is a necessary ingredient to success, but I have to agree with some of the other commentators. Persistence has to be included with vision, purpose, some talent, and the ability to take constructive criticism. I may cringe when I read/hear criticism of my work, but I always go back over that information later and try to figure out how to put it to work for me.
    I’ve been in writing classes where one or two students have refused to change even a word or two of their work at the teacher’s direction. That kind of blind persistence doesn’t work. Open-minded persistence is just part of the combination of success.

  2. caroline gerardo

    Genius, a Harvard Degree and good looks is just as likely to find you homeless without hard sweaty constant work. However, the better recipe for sucess is to find one’s own talent and passion then plan and work everyday until you drop.

  3. Steve

    Persistence has worked well for me. In y early days as a self-employed programmer I would often be forced by my financial circumstances to drive unreliable vehicles to out-of-town meetings or work assignments. I soon developed a near-obsession to reach my destination at all costs. One typical example of this is as follows. I was driving from Lansing, MIchigan to the Detroit area when a tire went flat on my car. I had no spare. I was on the outskirts of Howell, a small town about midway between Lansing and Detroit.

    I knew that there was a salvage yard on the fart end of Howell, and that I had a good chance to find a junk wheel with an inflated tire that would be affordable and fit my car. I walked to the junkyard, purchased a usable wheel and tire and hitch-hiked back to my car. Inb the process I stopped at a pay phone *this was before cells) and let the client know I would be late.

    All worked out fine and I was able to undertake a rewarding and enjoyable project for the client. It would have been easy to give up in the face of a flat tire, but persistence worked out better.

    -Steve

  4. Sierra Godfrey

    I’m a big fan of persistence, but like other commenters, I think it has to involve other ingredients. If you’re bad at something and don’t have the tools or the passion to be better, then persistence isn’t going to help.

    One of my favorite things to say along these lines is that luck = opportunity + preparation.

  5. Candace

    I just read, "Leading Indicator of Success, which was inspiring to me, especially the quote by Obama. It just goes to show that persistance may payoff in the long run: it’s just that not everyone gets awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing.

  6. Paul

    I think persistence is essential for an aspiring writer but it has to be informed persistence where you are open to learning, changing, and growing. It doesn’t mean to keep doing the same thing over and over while hoping for different results. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  7. Dana

    Interesting topic!

    Passion + Purpose fueled by Persistence = Success

    I like this definition of success. It can be a challenge to find ways to channel the passion and it takes a lot of experimentation and support to develop that sense of purpose.

  8. Theresa Milstein

    I hope persistence pays off because I’m attending my fouth (NESCBWI) conference today.

    My husband went on your blog before my birthday and bought Page after Page and The Situation and The Story based on your recommendations.

  9. Brenda Williams

    Persistence is a tricky character indeed. Without vision and true talent, stubborn persistence can lead to banging one’s head against the same wall repeatedly but expecting different results, and that’s just not smart. I think persistence is one of several ingredients necessary for success. Certainly, we don’t want to give up on our goals, but we also don’t want to doggedly pursue things that don’t seem to want to work out for us either. At some point, a person has to say: "I’m getting the message that this isn’t meant to be, so I’m going to go in a different direction." That’s not giving up. That’s just being realistic. It means adjusting one’s goals to something that is a better fit and lends itself to a better chance of success. That kind of persistence makes sense.

  10. Janet W

    Where did you find the Calvin Coolidge quote on Persistence? My boss and I both have it posted above our desks & I would love to share the link with him. Could not agree with you more. Passion + Purpose fueled by Persistence = Success (his equation, not mine, giving credit and all!).

  11. Laura Atchison

    This is such an interesting topic. Persistence is necessary, but no guarantee. That’s the tricky part isn’t it? In my other life I’m a portrait photograher, and there is no question that in the photography world persistence is almost more important than talent or attention to skill and craft. Lots of gifted photographers fail, while those that focus on the business as a business and plug away at it – usually ignoring the quality of their work – often have thriving studios. This is not always true, obviously. There are also lots of photographers that do beautiful work and persist until they succeed. But persistence does seem to be the common denominator.

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