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On patience and persistence (Quote of the Month, March 2011)

No thing great is created suddenly.

– Epictetus

There is no way around it. You have your current situation and you have your vision. If you envision great things that are not yet present at this time, there are obviously certain steps in between that need to be taken in order for your vision to come true. Each step requires some time and some effort that needs to be put in. You have to know what those steps are and you have to be willing to put in your time and your effort. You can’t just snap with your fingers and expect it to happen by itself and instantly.

A painter may have an instant inspiration for his next painting, but he can’t sell it or show it to anybody until he materializes his vision on canvas. And in order to do that, he needs to take certain steps and put in his time and energy and even money. He needs to prepare and mix the right shades of colors. If he doesn’t have the right colors then he needs to go to the store and pay with his money for them. Then he might spend hours, days or even weeks on working on the painting. And he would need to interrupt his work many times for eating, sleeping and other mundane things. These things are so obvious that I feel silly even describing them.

However, I want to emphasize all the trouble that an artist might have with creating a single painting. He would need a lot of patience and persistence in order to complete the work. They are both necessary for just about any accomplishment. Although both words have somewhat similar meaning, I consider persistence as more connected with what you’re doing (your actions), whereas patience as more connected with time frame of things and your state of being during that time. For example, if you are patiently waiting for something then you are at ease while being inactive for a certain period of time.

There are other uses of the words, but for the purpose of this article we can define persistence as continued effort to do and actually complete each and every step that is necessary for success, regardless of any difficulties, failure, or opposition. Persistence is the outer manifestation of determination or willingness to do. And we can define patience as willingness to endure something unpleasant and long lasting (or to delay gratification) in order to reach a certain goal – patience is the willingness to wait for the outcome. When you wait willingly you remain calm, you don’t get bored and you are not in a hurry. So, patience also includes unwillingness to take supposed short cuts that you know are most likely no good – like skipping steps or doing them in wrong order, doing them too soon or not long enough or rushing through them too fast.

An impatient painter would not go to the store to buy the right colors – he would start painting immediately with colors he already had at hand, even though this might compromise his painting. Epictetus himself gives another example of patience, as his whole quote goes like this: “No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

But of course, we all want instant gratification instead. We don’t want to wait until the fig is ripe – we want it now. We want immediate results for everything. In this day and age our culinary example may be slightly out of date – you can probably buy a fig in your supermarket all year long, because it is being transported from wherever there is a season right now. However, not everything can be bought in the store.

You can’t buy successful career or good relationships or your health. Sure there are drugs for almost everything, but good health requires more than eating a ton of pills. All serious success is gradual. Relaxation techniques or meditation won’t work miracles the first time you try them. Right diet or physical exercise won’t make you healthier the next day. You won’t become more social just by remembering a few jokes. And you can be successful at your work only if you are dedicated to what you do and you think long term – that is, if you are patient and persistent.