I play correspondence chess with my son. I have been playing chess for thirty-five years. He has known the game for fourteen years, has been playing in earnest for the better part of the last year. A few weeks ago he beat me clean. That doesn’t happen very often.
My son is a passionate chef. He discovered this passion at the end of his teen years and now is hot on the trail of culinary mastery, making great headway and still in his early twenties. Meanwhile we play chess, and though I win the vast majority of our games he continually comes back for more. We were discussing this fact, and his developing career, and my own efforts at completing my latest novel, and at one point he said in passing, “I’m a strong believer in persistence.” This disclosure was an epiphany. It’s not that I was surprised to realize that persistence is an important aspect of success, but that I hadn’t put the emphasis on persistence in my life that it really deserves.
This revelation was all the more powerful because I realized this young man, my son the chef, had already surpassed me in his understanding of what it takes to be great at what a person does. His persistence has manifested in work schedules that would make most of us faint. Twelve and fourteen days straight, double shifts. Cooking, cleaning, prepping. Learning. Now, I do not advocate the necessity of long and endless days of work in order to succeed. Each objective requires the time it requires and nothing more. The kitchen takes long hours. If you can’t stand the heat . . . well, you know what they say.
This brings us to the issue at hand. Many artists spend only a few hours per day working on their craft. Time is only one factor in the equation. It is the regular and continuous engagement with your art, persistence, that yields results. You have ten minutes of giving up after any one failure. After that you have to get back to work. You have to persist.
One needs only to read the endless accounts of artists of various kinds who nearly gave up on their success, but through sheer will stuck with it until things suddenly changed. Story after story, book after book, painting after painting, song after song these people worked and championed themselves endlessly until their day came. If that seems like too much to ask, well, if you can’t stand the heat.
There is a magical equation to finding your success after all. The spell of persistence creates an energy and momentum that brings those who are loyal to it into the result they seek. It is a mindless incantation, a dogged meditation on commitment to attaining the results we seek. Persistence is revision of our art, revision of our selves, revision of our attitude, and of our efforts to do what needs to be done to keep going. Not mindless in the sense of thoughtlessness, but in the sense of not stopping to take account of the effort we are making to reach our goal. We must not think at all about the time we are committing (and if you recall last post we discussed time as a tool to assure we are committing in the first place). Put your mind only to the work at hand, and persist.
Some painters use the same canvas again and again, white-washing the latest image and painting a new one over it. This is done in pursuit of improving technique – a persistence in learning what works and what does not. Similarly, photographers take hundreds, even thousands of pictures to find the handful that the rest of the world sits up to notice. Nothing about the creative life is one-and-done. We need to persist in our persistence. It’s time to get stubborn.
So what is your commitment to success? Do you have a plan for persistence?