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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.

Thoughts on Hope and Action

I have recently seen a quote in a comment section of a video on YouTube that was very, very wise:

“Hope is both good and bad. If you use hope to inspire action then it’s good, if you use hope as an excuse not to take action then it’s bad.”

It couldn’t be said any better. Only action is what counts and hope can help you persist when the road gets difficult and rain starts pouring down. However, building castles in the sky, daydreaming about wishes that you have, but without doing anything TODAY to move you somewhat closer to them, is the wrong use of hope. It is actually avoidance, running away from reality into a dream word, into an imagined future.

The problem with imagined future is that it never actually comes. The future comes, but it isn’t the future that you have imagined. Because if you do not take action to change something in your environment or in yourself, then the future will be the same old, same old. The catch is that you have to act TODAY! Not tomorrow, not next week or when the time is right. The time is always right to do the right thing. If you mentally postpone action into the future it will stay there – in the future. Forever.

That doesn’t mean that you can do everything today and reach your goals in a single day. But it means that you have to start today. Perhaps, the thing that you can do today is WRITE A PLAN of actions that you will have to do in order to reach your goal. Or you can go to a bookstore and buy a book that you will have to read to learn the skills that you need in order to reach your goal. Whatever it is, do it today. Put yourself into the mental state of “it starts today”.

However, you will not do it if you do not have a crystal clear vision of your goal. You can’t start acting if you do not even know what your end result is. Imagine that you want to write a book. That was your wish for a long time. And now you hear me saying that you have to start today. Ok. Today is action time. You will start writing a book. Great. Awesome. So… now what?

If you don’t even know what kind of book you want to write, can you really do anything productive? You would have to start with: Dear reader, this is my first book. I have no idea what it will be about, but have a little patience (or skip a few pages)…

You have to ask yourself: Do I want to write fiction or non-fiction? Do I want to write a book about animals or a book about plants? In the first case you would go to the zoo for the inspiration. In the second case you would go to botanical garden. If you don’t even know what kind of book you want to write, then it should be your top priority to figure it out, because you can not do anything else until you have a clear vision of what you want.

In my life I have often been too general about what I wanted. I wanted many things, but none of them very much. I rarely had any real, concrete goals (with the exception of getting good grades in school) – only wishes and imaginings and hopes. I suppose that’s why I have been running in circles all of my life until now.