For many years, I’ve set a yearly intention in a word or phrase. In the last few years, I’ve seen the most positive progress in almost all aspects of my life. Gentle persistence has become my personal mantra, and I don’t think I will change it in the years to come.

Almost everything in life needs you to be persistent. Learning to walk, to talk, to cook. Passing school and university, making friends, holding down a job and earning a reliable income. Growing a garden, a business, or a family. Recovering after an illness or operation. Maintaining your fitness and health. And of course, coming to terms with and living with chronic illness and pain.

Some people can go all out, diving energetically into life, their studies and their jobs. They expend a lot of energy and make great strides forward fast.

Those of use who have chronic conditions or illnesses can’t expend such large amounts of energy at work, at home or in creative pursuits. We need to be more gentle with ourselves, pace our efforts and rest when needed.

Even those who do have great energy and health, if they don’t persist in applying effort, they will lose their forward momentum and results.

Slow and steady?

I’ve written in the past about how slow and steady work gets results, and listed many things that fit into 20 minute blocks, as inspired by Michael Nobbs at Go Gently.

But those words, “slow and steady,” didn’t feel quite right. Maybe because I don’t see myself as a steady person?

A number of friends have remarked over the years that I was very persistent. Some in a positive way, some quite negative. Persistence is definitely a core element of my personality. But only after the cancer operation, and a very toxic work situation, did I realise I needed to be gentler with myself.

Thus, “gentle persistence” came together.

Operation recovery needs gentle persistence

It took a good six months after my hysterectomy until I felt reasonable. Many people recover in a much shorter time. Whether it was due to my other chronic illnesses, or returning to a stressful job too soon after the operation, I’ll never find out.

But I do know that each operation takes longer to recover from than the previous.

Operation number 7, the huge DIEP breast cancer mastectomy and transplant, took much longer, and was more painful than any that came before. I decided to take the full month off, and take it as easy as I could afterwards. I’ve written about the DIEP operation and my recovery after 1.5 years in earlier posts.  It’s now nearly 4 years, and I still struggle at times. My breathing has never fully recovered - not moving much for many months decimates lung capacity. That’s a scary spot to be, in these COVID times.

Gentle improvements

Now that I’ve moved and have access to a good rheumatologist, I’m back on the arthritis medication that works, and movement is much easier. The reduced pain means I can focus for longer periods, which means I have to pace less and take fewer, shorter rests to get my work done.

Post vaccine and antibody-testing, my aim is to gently and persistently gain back fitness. Slowly get moving, get outside more, get flexible and get to a healthy weight.

After all, I want the cello I have promised myself when I reach my goal weight!

Gentle persistence is the key to learning anything

Learning a music instrument, a language, a new skill, a craft - everything needs persistence. Putting in the brush or pencil miles, spending 10,000 hours to master anything, this topic has been covered by writers and artists of all stripes when explaining how they learnt their craft.

You need to be gentle enough with yourself to realise when you’ve hit a temporary rough patch. If you persist, without pushing too hard, you’ll find a way past it.

If you push, push push, you are likely to end up hating whatever you are learning and drop it.

That would explain the number of music or language or university students, chess or sports prodigies who simply give up - either they themselves, their parents or coaches pushed too far, too fast. Had they been gentler …

Gentle does not mean lazy.

Take a break, switch to something else for a while, rest - these are healthy and gentle reactions. They are very necessary when you hit a rough patch in your studies, your work or even relationships.

Gentle persistence is needed in hobbies too.

I burnt out a bit on crochet after finishing a few big blanket projects. Now that I have learnt how to knit, and made some socks, and spend some time on hand sewing projects, I’m ready to dip back into some more crochet.

Building a freelance business takes persistence

Setting you own hours and working from home, choosing the clients and projects to work with - sounds great, doesn’t it? But a freelance business is remarkably difficult to build and sustain.

If you go all out, apply for piles of projects and have too much work to do, it’ll be all work, all the time. Your quality will suffer, you’ll miss deadlines, your clients will be unhappy, and you will burn out quickly.

Starting slowly, increasing clients gradually, learning which projects or areas are best suited for your skills is a much better way to go. You gently and persistently increase your portfolio and experience, your network of clients and your rates, while keeping everyone happy (and healthy).

A constant hustle is not healthy.

Intense focus purely on work at all times will push people (clients, co-workers, friends and family) away. You’ll put your health and hobbies off. And when you inevitably burn out, your network of support and recovery options may have some rather large holes.

You need to make sure you have some outlet for your interests and people outside your work.

Be gentle enough on yourself to recognise when you need a break, when you need to do something other than work or spend time elsewhere. Be persistent in sticking to reasonable hours, sensible project requirements, and work/home/health boundaries.

Gently and persistently publishing English resources

When I started teaching conversation classes in Germany 10 (!) years ago now, there were no easy-to-access resources apart from textbooks. These did not adapt well to conversation classes. I did not want the resources I created during the many years I’ve been teaching to go to waste, so I started publishing them on Patreon.

With gentle persistence over two years, I’ve now published a huge library on Patreon: puzzles, conversation prompts, lesson plans, cheat sheets and more. Both English language teachers and students can use these resources to teach or self-study. I’ve also published a wide variety of tips, from VAT tax, GDPR and freelancing in Germany, through to managing the new-to-teaching jitters, structuring a conversation course and setting up a stream with piano visualisations.

Need some help with your projects?

If you need some gentle encouragement, companionship or accountability to persist in your learning, teaching or creative process, as any level of patron, you are most welcome to join me as I hold sporadic co-working sessions.

Sound interesting? I’d love for you to join me on Patreon!