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FastWeb Column: Persistence Pays Off

This story was published in 2007 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.

This week I’m going to write about persimmons. Oh yes, that most noble of fruits. No, hang on, that’s wrong. You’ll have to excuse me (well, you don’t have to, but it’d be a very generous move on your part). I’m graduating from college on Sunday and my brain’s just about full to capacity. Bet you didn’t know that could happen. It can. So don’t fill up your headspace with all those song lyrics, ok?

This week’s column, my last, is about persistence. My college career has been peppered with situations in which I had to just get through things, without complaining or ignoring the situation. The instances range from the serious — when I was a varsity athlete with asthma — to the trivial — my housemate’s sub-optimal hygiene habits.

I haven’t experienced the real world yet, but I figure persistence is going to continue to be a theme in life. Like watching cooking shows. That will probably be a theme too.

If things don’t go your way, sometimes you can change the circumstances and sometimes you can’t. The second option takes an entirely different skill set than the first. (Did you notice that term, “skill set?” That’s the kind of talk we graduates use. If someone had said those words to me my first year I would have thought they were talking about matching silverware.) Things don’t break your way and there are times you can’t get away from a bad situation, so you just have to persevere.

I’m not really prone to feeling sorry for myself, but I found that the less I complained about a situation, the easier it was to get through. I might mention an unpleasant experience to a friend; I might even mention it in what some would call a whiny voice. But to anyone directly involved — a coworker or boss — I kept my mouth shut. Don’t advertise your unhappiness. The few times I was uncomfortable in a workplace and kept my complaints to myself — they weren’t constructive, but personal annoyances — my actions ended up benefiting me through cool promotions, glowing letters of recommendation and so on.

College is designed to teach you to be persistent. Every student wants to befriend the great teachers, so you have to stand out academically and in personality. You’re separated from your family and hometown. You might not like your roommate, your resident advisor, your academic advisor, your lunchlady … Unless you’re lucky, there will be required classes you have to take and you may hate them. You may have to work a job that you dislike. The bad news is that most of these things can’t be changed without a lot of stress and effort on everyone’s part. The good news is they all have a time limit.

Persistence takes a certain mindset (different from a skill set, but nearly as useful). Think of your trials and tribulations as mountains: They’re high, they’re serious and they’re unpleasant to go through, but a finite number of steps will get you over them. Every day the end comes closer, so chin up. Be tough and resilient and the persimmons of your labors will come to you.

Thank you for reading this year and for sending me your thoughts. I’ll be at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the fall, so keep your eyes peeled for more parentheses, more puns and a lot more of my writing!

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