Resilience. Persistence. Perseverance. Self-control. Some people might consider these terms to be synonyms. But to me there is one word that sums it all up -- "tenacity." And it is one of the most important traits for long-term success.
Studies at the University of Pennsylvania show that tenacity and self-control correlate with lifetime educational attainment. That correlation does not stop at graduation -- tenacity is one of the most important skills you can develop to help you throughout your career.
It can be easy to confuse tenacity with stubbornness. But there is a key difference. Stubbornness is driven by not wanting to change your mind or position on something. Tenacity is driven by your determination to achieve a goal, unwilling to give up until you do. Being stubborn is about clinging to what is known -- being tenacious is about steadily moving forward.
With this lens, it is easy to see how valuable tenacity can be for your career and overall success in life. This is because tenacity is a trait that requires other components -- patience, creativity, and analytical thinking -- to help you maintain focus and to achieve your goals.
For some folks, relentless pursuit and determination come naturally. But maybe that is not you -- maybe you were not born with that bulldog gene. Does that mean you are destined to be less successful than your gritty colleagues? Not at all. Tenacity can be both taught and learned.
Here are five ways to cultivate tenacity:
Know your goal
What truly motivates you? What do you want your career legacy to look like? Write this vision down -- this is your calling. And then write down a few actionable goals to help you make this calling a reality. For bonus points, set dates for when you want to accomplish those goals to keep you motivated and on track.
Relentlessly push yourself to learn and develop. Find out everything you can about the area you want to work in. This is not research you can simply find online or in books -- consider joining professional groups or setting up informational interviews with people you admire. Turn that curious mind inward and look for opportunities to grow in your everyday work as well.
Remember that you need to balance the big picture with the reality of today. A 2017 Stanford University study found that people benefit by focusing on smaller "sub-goals" earlier on -- then on the larger objective in later stages. Whenever possible, make those intermediate goals tactical and even measurable so that you can gauge your progress. Keeping your scope limited to what you can incrementally accomplish will help keep you motivated.
Ground your work in meaning and purpose. Way back in the 4th century B.C., Aristotle spoke of eudaimonia or "the good life." For him, this meant a life not of leisure, but of purposeful activity. Sure, not every day is going to be filled with excitement, but you can look for purpose to buoy your progress and reinvigorate your effort.
There are bound to be roadblocks along the way. A multi-university study found that people who experience meaningful work are better both at recovering from setbacks and at viewing setbacks as learning opportunities. So when those setbacks occur, refocus the situation by asking, "What could I have done differently? What will I do differently next time?"
Obstacles, setbacks, challenges... you are likely to face many of each in your career. Especially if you are striving for greatness. By developing tenacity, you can give yourself the fuel to keep going.
It will help you in the moment as you tackle your most intractable problems. And it will help you long-term as you stay focused and motivated to achieve your calling.
How do you stay tenacious at work?