Perseverance – When You are in for the Long Haul

The art quilt is under the sewing machine needle for stitching

Many years ago, during a job interview for a position as scientist, I was asked what I consider my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. My answer was “determination” for both.

I don’t give up easily. And I do. Not. Give. Up. Easily.

I’m ambitious and I don’t mind hard work. I can stick with a difficult project, tinker on various approaches, and experiment with possible solutions until I succeed.

Unfortunately, at that time I recognized the downside of my determination only late in the process. I could be like a little terrier with a bone, holding on with great stubbornness, unwilling to let go. I was unable to take a step back and analyze why my efforts did not result in progress. Instead I tried even harder. Giving up in the face of a challenge was just not an option for me, and I considered asking for help a sign of weakness.

By now I have found a healthier balance between grit and stubbornness. I regularly pause and assess the situation, especially when I feel I’m lacking anticipated progress, so I can adapt, stop, or ask a friend for input.

Nevertheless, perseverance is still one of my biggest strengths.

For my creative journey I recognized that talent is helpful, but tenacity is way more important:

  • Becoming proficient with certain techniques requires lots of practice. I spent countless spools of thread and many, many hours improving various patterns for free-motion quilting. Not only did my perseverance help me become competent but it also increased my self-confidence.
  • Developing my artistic voice was an evolution, a process that took time. It involved acquiring a style that sustains my interest, finding topics that connect with my values, and building a mindset that directs my personal and artistic growth.
  • Creating a body of work expansive enough for a solo exhibition in a spacious gallery requires dedication, one textile painting at a time.
  • Building a small business is a challenge for any business owner. Passion and persistence were and still are important for me to overcome setbacks, so my art business continues to thrive.
  • Since I’m in for the long haul, my perseverance has helped me to see rejections for grant proposals or art submissions not as professional – let alone, personal – failures but as learning experiences. There will always be another grant or exhibition to apply to.
  • Opportunities for solo exhibitions or curating group shows are complex in nature. No matter how much professionalism I bring to these projects, there is always one thing (or more) going wrong. Therefore, I have developed a circle of friends and colleagues who give advice generously and enjoy witnessing my progress. Their support adds to my grit.
  • As the focus of my art evolved, my definition of success has changed. But no matter what success constitutes, it does not come overnight. Planning for a steady course of action allows me to work towards a distant goal and be successful in the long run.

I believe in my resilience and my perseverance. These (and a few other) traits have brought me to where I am now as an artist.

But I was not just born with toughness and determination, I developed these qualities. So can you!

  • Understand your motivation for a project. When you know your “why?” you are more inspired to start AND to continue despite obstacles.
  • Set SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based. The clearer you are the greater are your chances for success. The article here provides definitions and examples for SMART goals.
  • Have an accountability partner who holds you responsible for your plans and actions by checking in with you regularly.
  • Work with a coach or mentor for guidance and feedback. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees as we get stuck on details. An open conversation with a coach or mentor helps us to return to the big picture and move forward.
  • Write down your accomplishments at the end of the workday or workweek. Celebrate your gains no matter how small they might appear. By keeping track of little steps, you will recognize how much you advance overall.
  • Mistakes happen. Obstacles appear. Things go wrong. Accept that we are not always in control of the circumstances even if we really, really want to. Analyze the setbacks and learn as much as possible from them. Next time you will be better prepared.

If you want to delve even deeper into the power of tenacity, then I recommend the book “Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth.

Improving your perseverance will help you in many aspects of your life: your relationships, your job, your hobbies, your volunteer work. According to this article, perseverance even improves our mental health!

And who would not want that?

Good luck!