Counselling Psychology | Consultant Psychology | Clinical Supervision

The art of perseverance or, what was the deal with Sisyphus?

All those magic ‘P’ words.. Patience, persistence and perseverance. They all seem to convey the idea of sticking with something, of enduring and of continuing to strive, despite the absence of a sure promise of reward. But what a nuisance that is.

It seems like in todays’ time, rather than working really hard for a distant endgame, perseverance is being replaced with the concept of instant gratification. Everything is seemingly accessible by the click of a button, I can ‘like’ or pin something I find interesting, dating has become a game of swiping left or right and between Google and Siri I have two know-it-alls who will give me the answer to almost any question. So why would I want to persist and continue to fight despite the lack of an instant reward or even the guarantee of one?

Perseverance may not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of poor old Sisyphus, disgraced by the gods, punished to carry a heavy rock up the mountain, only for it to fall back down again, but for me I always wondered- what was his deal, why did he continue to schlep it back up, again and again? Surely he could have just revolted against his cruel punishment and just tried to walk away- but no, he persevered and, presumably by accepting its absurdity, found meaning in his actions. The most interesting thing for me, though, was his not giving up, the fact that he just kept on going and that got me thinking: maybe through the act of persevering he managed to create meaning in his actions, and by putting in so much effort he could then reap the benefit, despite doing something that on the surface appears not only meaningless but even slightly absurd.

But going back to our, less mythical times, I feel that I have recently been given the lesson that perseverance, while not being a whole lot of fun in the process, can however, lead to a great sense of accomplishment. Not that I have been tasked with heaving a giant rock up a hill. Thankfully what I am persisting in are all things I actively chose to do but actually persisting in fulfilling your very own dream can be even more daunting, but that’s a whole other subject.

What I found out about perseverance is this: by sticking with a goal and putting in the effort in order to make something that I really want actually happen, the reward is not necessarily something I receive only in the end, but rather a sense of achievement I feel from simply having stuck with something that didn’t always feel comfortable, and indeed often feels hard and challenging to do on many levels.

So, turns out, for me, a life well lived is less about instantly satisfying all my needs without putting any effort in, but more about the challenge of working and striving for things that require endurance. In the end, overcoming the challenge of sticking with something without giving up helps me grow, mentally and spiritually. It puts me in touch with my inner resistance, confronts my boundaries and enables me to expand.

Thankfully, I am not Sisyphus, but I like the idea of finding meaning, not only in the absurdity of doing something that may appear meaningless, but in the enduring nature of continuing to do something, despite it being difficult and challenging.

What are your thoughts on perseverance, is it part of living well or just a hassle?