Perseverance: An Expanded Defintion

“Together we had endured and prevailed

over the ordeal

without letting it change us in essential ways.”

Huey P. Newton

The quote above inspires me to consider how I think about perseverance. To persevere, in essence, is to to achieve a difficult goal. It is also to endure through difficult times. Though our difficulties are often far from the worst scenarios of our lives (a fact we less often recognize in the throes of persevering), we all have achievements and trials. The quest to achieve and the endurance of a trial is riddled with difficulties. Otherwise, these achievements and trials would not be achievements or trials at all.

As I read this quote, I wonder if it is quite as simple as that. Is there a difference between achieving a goal or suffering through a trial and achieving a goal or suffering through a trial without changing in “essential ways”?


For instance, consider a pastime that seems to have a tight grasp on the American people—sports. When a champion runner persists through the difficulties to achieve a medal at the Olympic games, including training, placing in smaller venues, overcoming injuries, and sacrificing other pursuits, can we say she’s persevered? Yes. What if it turns out that runner is using a performance enhancer? Well, it seems the waters are murkier now.

It depends on how harsh we are as we define perseverance. Have I, or anyone else, persevered in a  genuine way if I have changed in some “essential way” (negatively, of course)? If I have given into the pressures of my pursuit by lowering myself in some aspect, should I strip myself of the word “perseverance”? At the personal level, most of my achievements are academic. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in May, and I can attest that I’ve never cheated or lied to achieve an academic goal. Now, I’m in graduate school. If I eventually earn my Masters degree, but I do something I’ve never done before—cheated—to earn that degree, can I say I have persevered in my effort to earn my advanced degree? No, I don’t think I can. Not in the context of Huey P. Newton’s words.

Perhaps we need to be harsh in defining perseverance. Maybe we need to define perseverance in the context of Newton’s words. In fact, given my consideration of it now, I’d say we need to accept Newton’s own assessment of his perseverance. The high expectation level Newton establishes for perseverance by addressing that he himself had not been changed in “essential ways” is a the level of expectation we need to apply to ourselves when it comes to our personal perseverance.

Our trials and our achievements should leave us better than what we were before. Our life is not a quest to fill up the white space of a mental resume. It’s not a race to expand the list of our accomplishments. It is not a competition to see who has come out barely alive (but alive!) from the darkest trials of our lives.

I suggest we strive for a higher expectation of perseverance. It is my belief we should not only face difficult tasks and triumph, but that we should achieve the difficult goals and face the difficult times while keeping the positive aspects of our person unchanged. At that point, we can tell others that we have persevered in a genuine way.

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