Persistence is the ability to continue a course of action even when you face obstacles or difficulties.
People who are persistent have an upper hand in life because they don’t give up. They will try harder and focus longer until they achieve their goals.
Persistence is similar to resilience because both skills require someone to continue working hard despite being faced with challenges.
Examples of Persistence in Real Life
1. JK Rowling and Harry Potter
JK Rowling’s book Harry Potter was famously rejected multiple times by publishers before it was finally accepted. She was rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury Publishing finally accepted the book.
Harry Potter went on to be the best-selling book of all time and making the poor single mother from Edinburgh one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world.
There are many similar stories of struggling authors: Tim Ferris had to submit his famous book The Four Hour Work Week to 25 publishers while Dr Seuss’s first book was rejected 27 times.
Related: 33 Examples of Ambition
2. Thomas Edison and the Lightbulb
Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb, is said to have tried 1,000 different ways to invent the lightbulb before finally succeeding. His problem was finding the right filament for the bulb.
Edison was told by his teachers that he had no talent and could not learn, but Edison didn’t see himself as a talentless failure. He simply replied: “Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophy.”
3. Van Gough’s Paintings
Van Gough persisted through life as a struggling artist. He only sold two known paintings in his whole life. Like many struggling painters of his time, Van Gough didn’t reach fame until after his death.
Other examples of artist who only reached their peak fame post mortem include Edgar Allen Poe, John Keats, and Herman Melville.
These people all persisted with their craft despite disappointingly low fame and money throughout their lifetimes.
4. Terry Fox’s Walk Across Canada
Canadian legend Terry Fox was a long-distance runner until he lost his leg to cancer as a young man.
After losing his leg, Fox decided to run across Canada with a prosthetic leg to raise funds for cancer. As he crossed the country, cancer continued to consume his body.
Despite his heroic persistence and determination to complete the run, Fox succumbed to his disease. Annually, Canadians complete Fox’s route to raise money for cancer research and to honor Fox’s amazing personal qualities.
5. Helen Keller’s Journey
Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing at 19 months of age. Through adversity, Keller persisted. She was able to learn to read braille, get a degree, and write 14 books.
Keller advocated for disability rights, human rights, and world peace. Today, she is remembered as one of the most persistent and perseverant people to have ever lived.
6. The Refugee Journey
Refugees often find great difficulty in fleeing a difficult life at home.
They need to navigate bureaucratic burdens in leaving their dangerous home to make it somewhere safer. Sometimes, they even put themselves in physical danger through a long journey on foot or boat.
Once they arrive in their new homeland, refugees need to start a new life in a new culture and build their lives back from the ground up.
7. Hiking a Mountain
For me, hiking isn’t the most enjoyable activity. The first few miles is always tough as you trudge up the mountain.
But hiking is a sport for persistent people. If you get through the hard work of hiking up the hill, you get the joy of the views at the peak.
This is the perfect metaphor for persistent because it shows how the act of persevering through difficulty is necessary to achieve the benefits that come at the end.
8. Civil Rights Protesters
Civil rights protesters in the United States through the 1950s and 1960s created a groundswell of support for their movement through consistent nonviolent activism.
These protesters, like John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr, did not give up even when they were arrested and persecuted. They stood up for what they knew was right through adversity and, in the end, achieved their goals of achieving more rights for minorities in the USA.
Examples of Persistence for Students
9. Doing your Homework to Keep up with the Class
Sometimes, you don’t have the same natural talent as your classmates. To keep up with your class, you might need to go home and do homework until you understand what was taught in class.
Students who are willing to persist through their challenges in their classwork are often more desirable to employers than naturally smart students. They have demonstrated and practiced an important skill – persistence – that will be required in most jobs.
10. Reading a Book through the Boring Parts
Often, the books assigned at school aren’t the most exciting. Rather, we read them because of their important messages or historical significance.
At school, you might need to put aside some time every day to read through the boring parts of a book and focus on the key messages you need to take out of it.
11. Practicing your Handwriting
Handwriting isn’t learned overnight. You have to practice day after day to get it strong and legible. Students start out learning their letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then who essays.
This daily practice requires persistence and perseverance. You need to commit daily so your brain and hands learn how to write until it feels like second nature to you.
12. Completing a Project
Sometimes at school you are given a project that may take several weeks to complete. Often, these projects contain a central problem that you need to overcome.
Often, a teacher will even assign a project to a group of students so you have to work together to solve the problem.
These sorts of longer-term projects by definition need persistence because you need to commit time and effort daily in order to get the project done.
13. Studying for Exams
Studying often isn’t very fun at all. You need to put your head down and commit day after day to learning something.
Good students will commit to studying weeks before the exam. This will give them maximum time to learn and remember the information required for the exam.
Putting your head down and studying for several weeks straight requires a great deal of persistence.
14. Failure Fridays
As a teacher, I used to do a lesson each Friday called “Failure Fridays”. This lesson involves sitting down and talking with my class about famous people who failed multiple times before they succeeded.
These lessons teach students that failure isn’t a bad thing. We need to fail to learn lessons so we can succeed later on. We need to get back up and persist in order to succeed in life.
15. Going to College
When you apply for a job and show on your resume that you have a college degree, you’re not just showing that you are a knowledgeable person.
Anyone who has completed a college degree has demonstrated their ability to persist and persevere through several years of hard work and study.
That’s why your degree isn’t just about what you studied but also the other hidden ‘soft skills’ that come from going to college – one of which being persistence!
Examples of Persistence at Home
16. Completing a Jigsaw Puzzle
Every Christmas, my family opens up a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. We spend the afternoon working through the puzzle until it’s complete.
Doing a jigsaw puzzle requires persistence through periods when you feel like you just can’t find any more piece that fit together. You need to focus and get through the boring parts in order to get the satisfaction of the finished product.
17. Practicing a Skateboarding Trick
Most sports require a degree of persistence in order to achieve mastery of the sport. A great example is skateboarding.
When skateboarding, you need to practice the same trick or over and over again in order to perfect it.
You may need to go home every afternoon, put on knee pads and a helmet, and practice for hours or even weeks until you finally came to the trick every single time.
18. Nagging your Parents
Nothing is more persistent than a nagging child. Think about and child at a supermarket, for example, who wants a toy or candy off the shelf.
The child might cry, scream, or have a tantrum until they get their way. Children can have laser-like focus on getting what they want even if their parent says ‘no’.
Good parents make sure they do not give in, and in these situations, they are training their children not to persist if the parent says ‘no’.
19. Learning a New Language
Language learning is incredibly difficult, especially for adults. You need to really focus on learning new words and how they fit together in a foreign language.
But even when you understand the grammar and vocabulary theoretically, you still need to train your ear to hear words spoken at a fast pace. After that, you also need to develop the ability to think quickly enough to have wadversords come to your head when you want them to, then pronounce them in the correct way.
Putting all these skills together to learn a language can be very hard indeed!
Ways to Show Persistence in an Interview
20. Discuss your Long-Term Goals in the Interview
To convince a potential employer that you are a persistent person, you need to demonstrate it through anecdotes. You can’t just say “I’m persistent” and expect them to believe you.
Instead, talk about how you have long-term goals and how you’re continuing to do things to try to achieve them over time.
21. Discuss Everything it Took to Get you Here Today
Another way to demonstrate your persistence is to discuss all the things you had to go to in order to reach the interview that you’re currently sitting in.
For example, you might talk about how you had to get a college degree, study late nights, do extracurricular activities, do an unpaid internship, and donate time, all so you would get the attention of the interviewer.
22. Discuss times you Continued Through Adversity
A part of the definition of persistence is that you continue despite adversity or obstacles. So, talk about those obstacles!
Adversity might include being rejected for a university or school (then trying again and getting in the second time!) or struggling through a learning disability.
Related: Examples of Adversity
23. Ask for Feedback then Re-Apply
There’s no better way to demonstrate persistence than to show the employer that you won’t give up until you get the job.
If you don’t get the job you want, email or call the interviewer and ask for advice. Then, apply the advice and re-apply again next time a position is available, showing that you’re very eager to work for that person and that you’ll make sure you’re a persistent, dedicated employee.
Examples of Persistence in a Sentence
- Jon’s persistence in practicing kicking the football paid off when he scored a goal on the weekend.
- My persistence in studying helped me to pass the exams.
- Thomas Edison’s persistence helped to invent the light bulb.
- If you persist through adversity you will succeed in life.
- By being persistent when learning French at school, I was able to go to Paris and speak with people on the street.
- The man’s persistence in asking for a discount paid off when the retail clerk gave him 10% off.
- The mother gave the persistent child a candy to stop him from crying.
More Skills you Need
Related Required Skills For Students And Employees
Here are some other skills you might need to be able to demonstrate as a successful employee or college student:
Persistence is an important skill for a student to develop. It will help you succeed in life while also showing potential employers that you’ll be able to commit to your tasks and learn on the job.
Take the lead form famous persistent people in history like JK Rowling and Thomas Edison to learn how persistence can lead to success in life.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]