In every hero story the hero overcomes at least one seemingly insurmountable obstacle, often only to face yet another obstacle.
The pursuit of a heroic endeavor takes discipline, courage and perseverance. To quote Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo: “The (hero’s) journey is one of continuously falling on your face, getting up, brushing yourself off, looking sheepishly at God and taking another step.” Or as inventor Thomas Alva Edison put it: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!”
Perseverance is the perspiration part of the heroic adventure. It is the point in the hero’s quest when the hero says to himself or herself: “I can’t go on (pause) I’ll go on.” It is confronting doubts about whether or not the heroic mission is worth all the time, effort and self-sacrifice. Indeed, at times it is heroes asking themselves if they have what it takes to fulfill their heroic quest.
In Taoism it is said that when a Monk asks, “What is Tao,” the Master always replies, “Walk on.”
We persevere one step at a time. Sir Edmund Hillary described how he successfully climbed Mount Everest. He explained that he never looked at the top of the mountain when he was climbing because if he did, all he would have seen were the thousands of feet he still had to climb, the dozens of obstacles he still had to overcome. Slowly, one step at a time, he scaled the steep, perilous and unpredictable slopes, dealing with the hurdles only as they came into his line of sight. In this way he conquered the world’s tallest mountain.
In the same spirit, author and educator Helen Keller admitted that she deeply desired to accomplish a great and noble task until she realized it was her chief duty to “accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” We all know that her perseverance in accomplishing the “small tasks” added up to a revolution of tools and schools to empower the deaf, the blind, and visually impaired, as well as those who had difficulty with speech.
The ability of heroes to persevere directly relates to their passion for their quest, their faith in themselves, and the joy they receive from giving of themselves. However, they do not persevere alone. They also need the encouragement of caring people to cheer them on in their journey.
No matter what the obstacles to the heroic quest, with perseverance in their tool kit, heroes can say: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”