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August 7, 2014 at 1:00 AM

The key to career success: persistence

How many times have you heard this old saying: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?

It’s one of those oldies but goodies that grandpas and teachers delight in repeating to us so often that we may eventually stop listening. However, like many sayings, it has a lot of truth to it.

Here’s the scoop: Persistence is as important as talent or brains.

It may be even more important, because you can often make up what you lack in talent or brains by being persistent. In fact, all the talent and brains in the world will not help you succeed if you don’t have the persistence to use them to pursue your goals.

All of this is, of course, easier said than done. The very definition of “persistence” is “to continue to try even when you aren’t succeeding.” When people say “be persistent,” what they’re really saying is: “Force yourself to keep on trying even when your efforts are failing. And oh, by the way, we don’t care how hard it feels.”

It doesn’t sound like much fun, and it often isn’t. You will have many days when you feel like giving up or settling. Rejection and failure can be deadly.

When you get to this point (and we all do), do two things. First, remind yourself of this important life truth: Persistence is the key to living an exceptional life.

Second, immediately implement what I like to call the “persistence loop.” Here’s how it works: When you are feeling at your lowest, your most miserable, your most defeated, take one action that moves you toward your goal, even if you have to force yourself. It can be a very tiny action.

Then pay attention to how you feel. Chances are that tiny action has made you feel a tiny bit better. Great! Harness that newfound positivity and take another small step. Even though you may have to force yourself this time, too, you will feel, if you pay attention, another little jolt of well-being.

That’s the persistence loop. Every action you take, no matter how small, leads to success, which leads to more action, which leads to more success. Keep it going!

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: career advancement, finding your passion, motivation

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Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.


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