Many of the truly important lessons in life come at a cost. They also seem to be the ones that bring us the most satisfaction.
Case in point: Two days ago, I earned my black belt in Tae Kwon Do. After more than four years of incredibly hard work, too many bruises, pain, a broken big toe and a lot of frustration, I finally crossed that rubicon.
Master Kim, the man who runs our Do Jang, commented several times during the testing about the fact that he was impressed that I’d never given up, not even when things looked bleak.
But to me, that’s only part of the story. The bigger narrative was that I never stopped trying, in spite of my physical limitations, to get better at this martial art. Each setback became a dare, a personal challenge not merely to succeed, but to excel.
Usually, discussions about perseverance descend into platitudes. The most common one is the idea that a person simply has to hold on to the dream no matter what. When we’re talking about publication, the implication is that if you put your work out there and keep on writing, you’ll get published someday.
"Just hold on," we murmur. "Don’t give up. It’ll happen."
But that’s not true. Not everyone gets published.
"But, Pari," you say. "Why are you trying to bring me down? Everyone else says it’s just a numbers game. If I send out my stuff to enough publishers, someone will eventually buy it. Right?" Your voice raises an octave here. "Right?"
"Um, maybe." At this point in our conversation, I might back away. After all, my message could seem like a real bummer. Everyone knows someone who disproves it, too. Who hasn’t met a writer who talks about perseverance being the key, who claims that all you need is stick-to-itive-ness to land that three-book deal?
You know what? I’m beginning to think that’s utter crap.
Let’s not sugar coat this anymore. I think we authors ought to be more candid. Rather than only offering encouraging and predictable cliches, we might say something like this: "You’re not published? Is it possible it’s because your work isn’t ready yet?"
No. We’re NEVER that frank.
We never even raise the issue. Instead, we continue blathering about keeing your eyes on the prize, never abandoning your goals, going for the gusto, blah blah blah . . .
What an incredible disservice to those who truly seek our perspective and/or advice.
The longer I’m in this profession, the more I’ve come to realize: Commitment isn’t enough. You have to see a project through until it’s the best it can be.
If my first manuscript had been published, I’m not sure I’d still be a novelist. Quick success would’ve prevented me from learning that I had to strive for more. Since that attempt more than eight years ago, I’ve gotten to experience discouragement, self-doubt and despair. I’ve had to earn enough rejections to single-handedly deforest a couple of mid-sized islands. My mettle has been so sorely tested it looked as red and raw as carpaccio.
All of the years I spent trying to get published taught me the value of perseverance-plus, the absolute necessity of trying harder rather than blaming others for my lack of success. As a result, I’ve never taken this ride for granted. With three books under my belt, I’m working with more dedication than ever to hone and enrich my craft.
I think it’s this continuation, the push to improve, that defines a career over time. I got in the habit of trying harder with each project years before I was published. That habit has been reinforced tenfold since.
Perseverance goes beyond a single goal accomplished. It’d be such a service to add that critical concept to the equation every time we published writers encourage anyone who wants to venture down the same bumpy and gorgeous road.
Because determination is just the beginning.
It’s how you respond to the challenges — and your unrelenting commitment to improvement — that will help you reach your goals and make them relevant and satisfying for the rest of your life.