“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground” -Theodore Roosevelt
After my usual four mile run at Central Park, I am sweaty and impatient waiting for the elevator. The elevator opens, I walk in and join an elderly gentleman who looks like he has parkinson’s and his nurse. I do what I usually do in elevators, scramble to find my keys to pass the awkward silence. A kind voice encourages me from the corner of the elevator “Keep being persistent, it’s in there somewhere” I look up to meet a amused twinkle in the man’s eyes. I was struck by the tone in the voice that seem to resonate with my emotional state at the moment. I quipped, “persistence is about the only thing that works” He laughed and replied “touche” I watched him shake and shuffle slowly out of the elevator with his nurse holding his arm. I thought to myself, now that’s a man who knows something about persistence.
This encounter left me reflecting on the elements that helped me get through difficult times. As I think back on my success and failures, it’s persistence that led to both my success and demise. With my strong willed personality, I have two types of persistence in my toolbox: 1. The persistence to work hard on things I know I’m good at 2. The persistence to work hard in order to prove someone wrong. I have found that both approaches have led me to momentary success but ultimately left me in state of utter disillusionment.
So is persistence really the thing that helps me get what I need?
My success has been highlighted by my ability to keep doing whatever it takes. This drive came from growing up watching my immigrant parents struggle miserably at life, both personally and professionally. Day after day, year after year, I would watch my parents engaging in the same self- limiting process, even thought they were miserable— their rationale was: “at least we can count on the same miserable life to wake up to every day” They gave up on the dream of doing better for themselves and focused on the hope that their kids will eventually succeed and compensate for their losses.
It wasn’t my persistence that gave me success in life. It was my parents loss of hope that drove me to achieve. Their helplessness and trauma left me with no option other than to develop a burning need to survive on my own. My favorite proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” describes the need that gave birth to persistence. Today, this very resourceful part of me is looking for a new role. Now that my parents are settled in a comfortable retirement phase of their life, I am confronted with the ultimate question: