I just realized that I’ve worked for two organizations in the past fifteen years! Somehow, that really surprised me, because for probably ten of those years I would often spend a lot of my mental and emotional energy plotting my escape. Although I was persevering during those times, it was almost in spite of myself because in my mind the grass was always greener someplace else. Lucky for me, I’ve had wise people in my life who understood perseverance could be a more intentional, conscious effort.
When I was 30 years old, I decided to go for a promotion, but in my mind there was a sense of escaping to something better. My boss asked me if I was sure I wanted to go for it and shared some realistic responsibilities of the job, some changes I might have to personally make if I applied for and got the job, and some challenges I would have to tough out in a new role. At the time, I was almost disappointed to hear that sort of straight talk because it put a damper on my fantasy. In retrospect, I realize that my boss was actually helping me make a reality-based decision instead of a “grass is always greener” decision and also preparing me to persevere through the discomfort of being a team leader for the first time.
In my mid-thirties, I had moved to a new organization and had been struggling to find a sense of soul in my work. I was doing a decent job, but in my mind I couldn’t get out fast enough, once again imagining an escape. Again, a wise person in the organization said something that would profoundly change my attitude. He said to a small group of us that life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. Although it might be a cliché, he went on to say that if we couldn’t find happiness in the organization, we should consider leaving. That came as a shock to me, to hear that from a senior leader, yet he continued with a very positive challenge to persevere. He challenged us to find ways to utilize and focus on our strengths in our daily work. Hearing this shook me out of escapism and put responsibility squarely back on my shoulders to choose my attitude, my focus, and my own daily effort. Instead of drudgery, perseverance became a creative act.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t mastered perseverance. I occasionally slip back into escapist fantasy and I am a masterful day-dreamer, but I like to think I am also intentional in persevering. Just a few of the gifts of perseverance include:
*Developing a healthy tolerance for discomfort
*Developing self-responsibility for attitudes and actions
*Adapting to the organization (versus expecting the organization to conform to oneself, aka reality-check)
*Pride in “paying your dues”
*Unexpected opportunities for change and/or advancement within the organization
*Experience that is substantive
*Richness of relationships with colleagues that have longevity and depth
*Ability/credibility to affect change in the organization is enhanced
As a coach, I love working with clients who want to change their professional experience or change careers. There are many times when an external change such as going to work for another company or starting a business is absolutely the right thing to do. In other words we shouldn’t be so committed to perseverance, to “not quitting,” that we miss opportunities. The great thing about the gifts of perseverance is that they actually bolster our ability to make great career decisions. When we have persevered, tried everything within our own control to positively change our work experience, then we can freely and consciously choose our next career move. Such perseverance is so much more powerful than escapism. It is the strong foundation for what comes next.