Endurance is admirable, and important, but endurance is not the same as perseverance. Endurance occurs when faced with difficult situations that test your training and resolve. Perseverance occurs when faced with adversity beyond your training that requires growth.
Perseverance forces us to become the person the situation requires us to be.
Perseverance is greater than endurance.
Consider endurance, as you move from point A to point B through the difficulty, by the time you get to point B, you are essentially a more tired version of yourself than you were at point A. Perseverance is different. By the time you get to point B, you are not the same person that started at point A. You have to change to overcome the adversity.
You have grown and have been forever changed by the experience.
By October of 2003, I had already been to war multiple times. I was in the Middle East 8 days after the towers fell on 9/11 and in that week between, Kelly and I had gotten married, her mother died, and we became pregnant with our son. Nine months later, Jaden was born while I was in Afghanistan. I spent some of 2002 and the bulk of 2003 in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
After the first two years of chaos in our family, I had requested and been awarded a compassionate reassignment to move to 75th Ranger Regiment HQ at Ft. Benning. We hoped to repair the hurts that war, death, and separation had created inside our young family.
With the house half packed up, I went to work one morning in October 2003, expecting to come home for dinner, and came home in December.
The entire 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted and deployed back to Afghanistan.
It felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under us. Kelly was shocked. I was scared.
Every time you return from combat, you exhale. You feel like you fooled the devil while sneaking out of hell. Every time you load that bird headed back, you wonder if this will be the time you return in a flag draped box.
I wasn’t prepared for this, like having a child. You can read all the books, but until you’re home alone with that baby, you will never be ready. We are never fully prepared to become the person we need to be until we rise to the moments in life that challenge us to change.
The alert and deployment in October birthed the Winter Strike of ‘03. 60 days of continuous missions in Afghanistan’s most punishing terrain, highlighted by the first casualty of the GWOT for the 2nd Ranger Battalion, SGT Jay Anthony Blessing on November 14, 2003. My company spent 30 days of continuous operations in the Nuristan province, followed by 8 hours of refit in Bagram, and another 30 days in the Konar.
So many moments during that deployment shook me and challenged me at my core to grow into the man that my Rangers, and my family needed at the time. Through freezing cold temperatures, 100 lb. rucks, sleeping in barns, fleas, clearing villages, rationing our limited food supplies, and fast roping into the Shegal Valley, all of us were changed.
Navigating the ridgeline of adversity is in many ways like clearing those villages nestled in the dominating Hindu Kush Mountain range. It feels like a series of ups and downs that force you to constantly reassess, resolve, and recommit to the mission at hand by rising to the occasion of your calling.
We all feel this while endeavoring to accomplish objectives that matter, invented in life giving missions. You may feel this today as you must make one more payroll cut, furlough, or program cut to accomplish your mission. But you can’t “punt” in adversity, and you can’t try to endure through it.
You must persevere.
Here are five factors of perseverance, by comparison to its valiant cousin, endurance, that may help you through your next crucible:
- Change without control: Factors outside of your control change fast and often. With endurance, changes are difficult, but predictable. The expectation is generally met and you get what you signed up for. Perseverance occurs when you’re faced with situations that weren’t in the brochure. The reality turns out to be far worse than expected.
- Uncertainty: Confronted with situations beyond your training or capabilities. In perseverance your confidence is shaken, in endurance you’re shaken, but confident. You feel the difficulty of the situation, but you know you will make it. When persevering through adversity, you aren’t sure you will make it. You question your abilities and skills, and feel unsettled.
- Choice: The crucible of perseverance occurs when you choose to become your creeds, values, and ethos. Endurance requires us to solve practical problems with skills based solutions. Perseverance calls us to solve novel problems with character based solutions. The US Army Rangers recite the Ranger Creed every morning, including words like, “Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.” These are the moments you choose to become the creed instead of reciting the creed.
- Acceptance: Accept the consequences, embrace the unpredictability of the situation, and expect more adversity. With endurance you plan for the expected and have no sense or concern for the unknown. In perseverance you have a sense of concern for the unknown. You must hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You don’t have to like it, but you must accept it.
- Growth: You will be changed on the other side; you may not feel whole, but you will be better. Perseverance changes us. We don’t get to choose the time when destiny calls us into who we were created to be, we just get to choose whether or not to answer when it does. The fire will refine you, and you will be better for it, though it may take time, and reflection to recognize the growth.
Life is hard. Leadership is hard. This moment we live is hard. You can endure, pretending it’s just difficult by using the same plan, the same approach, and the same perspective, and you will continue to receive the same diminishing results. Or, you can recognize adversity for what it is, and persevere.
In 20 years, people are going to ask you, how did you do it? How did you lead your team through a global pandemic? How did you continue while you were cutting staff, cutting compensation, cutting programs, and unable to meet fully with your team?
You will answer, we persevered because we had to, but we grew because we chose to.
This article originally appeared at Applied Leadership Partners.