The Definition of Insanity, is it Perseverance or Persistence?

By: Brent Neal

Most people interchange the words “persistence” and “perseverance”, but there are considerable differences. This may not seem like anything of real consequence. For the most part, this is correct, but not in business. Let me explain.

Persistence implies obstinately continuing on, in spite of the difficulties you face. Perseverance means continuing on despite the difficulty or delay in achieving success. The first keyword to notice is “obstinately”, or stubbornly refusing to change one’s mind or actions even though you should. The second keyword is “success” or the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. One definition reveals a mindset of stubbornness while the other brings about success.

A few scenarios

There are so many scenarios for this perseverance/persistence quandary such as:

  • You are a business owner of a company experiencing financial difficulties. You are consistently facing hardships and not sure whether you should close or stay open.
  • You are an employee that hates your job. You believe you are being loyal because you do not want to leave your co-workers in a bind. You feel underappreciated but stay regardless of how much you dislike the work. You committed yourself because the job will enhance your resume, especially that promotion to the next level.
  • You are a supervisor of an employee who is tardy almost daily and misses a lot of work. As a result, the person fails to meet deadlines. You keep from terminating the worker because you see so much potential. You allow them to disrupt your department and cause your team harm because the staff member has incredible moments of brilliance.
  • You are an employee going through a tough decision because the company you work for is having financial difficulties and you could be laid off. You enjoy the work and your co-workers. You feel inspired to be there, but are still questioning whether you should stay or go.

What to do next

These dilemmas are often complicated. To determine whether you are being persistent or persevering, you must consider:

  1. Your attitude and motives,
  2. The situation,
  3. And, is there an effective plan that delivers success.

Many of the situations you face are circumstances outside of your control. How you respond to the situation and your actions reveal whether you are being persistent or persevering. If there is no plan or even a sequence of events that lead to success, or if your attitude or motives are negative, then you are being persistent and it could be your undoing. Additionally, if you find yourself repeatedly going through the same difficult problems, you need to ask yourself “What am I doing to prevent the issues from happening again?” Inaction in this circumstance means the resultant outcome will be recurring.

There’s a famous adage that explains insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. This sounds like the definition of persistence. You stubbornly believe that something will change on its own, despite your choice to change nothing. If there is no actionable plan that brings about success, you are being persistent, not persevering.

As an owner, manager, or leader, if you do not establish a way to overcome, then you will either continue to repeatedly battle the same issues or you will fail. If you create a plan and take on an attitude of forging on despite the hardships, you have a greater likelihood of overcoming. If you are an employee of a failing company and you do not offer to help create actionable steps to conquer, you are contributing to the failure. This invokes another famous quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” (Benjamin Franklin). Perseverance requires an actionable plan to overcome.