Sophia Zhong (11 years old)

January 18, 2018

          Perseverance is an important trait we, humans and animals, all share that helps us succeed in life, from passing a test to getting a job, from hunting for food to taking care of their young.  Many famous people have worked years to earn fame because it rarely comes overnight. However, they persevered and earned themselves a name.

          I think to persevere means to keep on going towards a goal in spite of difficulties, to continue no matter how many times you fail. For example, take Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the light bulb. Sources disagree how many times he tried and failed, but figures estimate from 1,000 to as high as 9,000 times! He worked for nearly two years on the light bulb. He spent days, weeks, months working on that one project! Edison tried more than 6,000 plant types to get the light bulb to burn longer. Even after it was patented, he was constantly adjusting and improving it. What if he had given up? No stage lights, no reading lamps, and no Christmas lights! Who knows, we might still be using candles to light our homes!

          Someone in my life who has shown a lot of perseverance is my mother. My mother first worked as an accountant. Then she decided to pursue a law degree. She had to take night classes while working in downtown Los Angeles during the day and raising a child - me! I was only three, but I remember going to the classes with her sometimes because my dad had to work. As a part-time student, it took her four years to earn her degree. When she finally graduated, she was one of the top students in her class! Then it was the time for her to pass the California state bar - one of the hardest tests in the country - in order to get an attorney license. Many American-born law students have taken the test three or four times before passing.  English was a foreign language to my mother. But she was undaunted. She thought, “I’ve worked so hard on this. My entire family has sacrificed a lot for me to study. I don’t want to do this again.  I’ll take the test once, and I will pass. Period.” She studied day and night for ten weeks. In the evening, she would say good night to me and then go downstairs to study, eating sunflower seeds to keep herself awake because coffee didn’t work anymore. Occasionally, she fell asleep on the table!

          I remember how happy and proud the whole family was when Mom checked online and found that she had passed the bar. I think my mom was the proudest, though. After all, she had set her goal, and, with a lot of hard work and perseverance, she reached it.

          Another great example is the story of Helen Keller. At nineteen months old, she contracted a disease that left her deaf and blind. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan faced many challenges. How do you teach someone who can’t hear to speak? How do you teach someone who can’t see to read and write? Answer: with a lot of patience and perseverance. Anne worked with Helen for a year before any major progress was made. Helen realized the motions Anne was making on her palm meant “water” while Anne ran cold water over her other hand. Helen then exhausted Anne asking the names of everything around her. Helen later went on to write twelve books and tour the world to speak about her experiences.  

          Helen usually gets all the glory. But I think Anne Sullivan showed more perseverance than Helen, though. She was patient yet determined to teach Helen how to read, write, and speak. She worked hard in order to reach her goal. Without her, Helen might never have learned to communicate, and then she would never have made an impact on the world.

          Animals also show perseverance…oftentimes more than humans. Every winter, female king salmon swim more than 2,000 miles – the distance between San Francisco and Chicago – to get to their birthplace. There are many amazing things about this journey. First, they swim upstream, against the current, which is no easy feat because the water keeps trying to push them back. Second, they have to overcome predators such as bears, wolves, and humans. And lastly, they do it all without eating a single bite of food.

          After the king salmon swim to their birthplace, they lay eggs. The exhausted mothers will not leave the nest. They stay until they die or until they aren’t strong enough to fight the current and are swept away. The salmon persevered and achieved their goals, even though it came at a high price – their lives.

          I think the time that I’ve used the most perseverance is this school year. Brain Boosters are optional packets that my math teacher makes with various challenging math and word puzzles. He told us that he hadn’t expected anyone to make it to Packet #10, but one of his earlier students did it right before the end of school year, so he made Packets #11-17. As soon as I heard that, I thought, I want to finish #17 first. No, I don’t want to, I’m going to. Saying is one thing. Doing is another. But I did. I went Brain Booster crazy. My friends know I absolutely love to read. But during the Brain Booster craze, I spent more time doing Brain Boosters than reading! I spent lots of time on it at night and on weekends. I really enjoyed myself. I broke the record and finished #10 in the second week of October! (School starts in September.) Then I hit #11. The hardest thing was the Samurai Sudoku, a variation of regular Sudoku puzzles that feature five joined grids. 

          Throughout the packets, it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up until 10:30 p.m. finishing one so I could turn it to my teacher in the next morning and get the next packet. Once, I was up till 11:00 p.m. finishing on a Samurai puzzle on #16. (I was "in the swing of things," which makes the Samurai easier, so, naturally, I didn't want to lose my swing!) Guess what? I finally finished #17 in early January! I worked very hard to accomplish my goal.

          Here are five simple steps to help with perseverance. First, set your goal and make sure it deserves your perseverance. To go after a worthy goal is perseverance; to go after an unworthy goal is stubbornness.

          Second, think of what you might miss if you pursue this goal and make sure you are willing to sacrifice it.  Once you are determined, then it is a commitment you make to yourself. For example, I skipped a birthday party so I could finish a Brain Booster.

          Third, begin. Lao Zi, a Chinese philosopher that lived 2,000 years ago, once said, “Every journey begins with a single step.” I could fantasize all I wanted about finishing Brain Booster #17, but I would have to start working on #1 to get to #17.

          Fourth, only go as fast as you feel comfortable. Set your own pace. Remember the old saying: Slow and steady wins the race!

          Lastly, just keep going. If you work hard enough, you’ll eventually reach your goal. Don’t overthink it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get there.

          I think of perseverance like mountain climbing. First, plan your trip. Second, make sure you’re committed. Third, start the trip. Next, don’t rush yourself. Look around. Take a break when you get tired. And lastly, just keep climbing.  Finally you make it to the peak. You turn around to get your reward: the beautiful mountaintop view of the city, or the forest, or the sea, or wherever your mountain is.

          You may not reach your goal the first time you try. That’s okay. It happens to all of us. Just keep on going.  “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

          Perseverance is being strong when you feel weak. Perseverance is working hard when you feel tired. Perseverance is the strength to keep on going. We all have it in us, we just have to use it.

Thank you!