According to the dictionary, “perseverance” means “the holding to a course of action, belief, or purpose without giving way; continuing strength or patience in dealing with something arduous. It particularly implies withstanding difficulty or resistance.”

When successful people in all walks of life are asked how they achieved their success, they almost always attribute it to perseverance. In fact, many people who have started their own businesses feel it is the single most important ingredient in becoming successful. No matter how good your ideas are, if you are easily discouraged, you will most likely not be successful.

A career in drumming has always been difficult. There are many stories about struggling young musicians with barely enough to eat eventually making it big. There is no doubt that it takes time for most of us to develop to our full potential. The ability to “hang in there”—to resist discouragement, overcome criticism, keep forging ahead in bad times, and keep one’s spirits up—are what perseverance is made of.

There is also a negative side to perseverance. Again, according to the dictionary, it can also mean “a dogged resolve in dealing with others and hence often a willful insistence which is unreasonable or annoying.” Note the words “insistence which is unreasonable.” This means that the person insists on believing something that is not true.

For example, many of us have met or worked with someone who believes he or she is “the greatest.” These people tend to be the ones who always blame others in the band for any mistakes. They feel that they are above the rest of the group and that the group only holds them back. We generally regard these people as egomaniacs or just a drag to be around.

I used to work with a guitar player who, in his own words, “was going to be the greatest who ever lived.” One night, after the job, I asked him at what point in his life he felt he would achieve this lofty goal (because he was already 36 years old and it did not seem to be happening). He became quite upset, and I apologized. I realized at that moment that he was never going to be realistic about his career. As a result of his unwavering belief in his unrealistic goal, he was always moody—unhappy with him self and with others who did not recognize his “greatness.” He was constantly feeling slighted if another member of the group received applause for a solo or received more attention than he did. I’m sorry to say he is no longer living; he eventually committed suicide some years ago. Although this is an extreme example, it is a true one. It is also quite sad, because this person was a very good guitarist. But because he didn’t become the “greatest,” he was never happy, no matter how well he played. He never enjoyed the success he did have.

If you do have perseverance and are seeking a career in music, let’s consider ways to keep your perseverance “positive.” First of all, sit down and analyze what you are good at. What do you have to offer the music industry? You might be a simple player with a great groove. If you feel that this is the case, then it would be appropriate to seek out groups and situations where these qualities are needed. Some of the best studio players are not fancy, but they sure know what to do when the red light is on.

Consider your training. If you have gone to music school and can play all of the percussion instruments well, there are many areas in which to excel, such as symphonic work, Broadway shows, TV and studio work, and teaching (either privately or in a college). If you are an all-around drummer and percussionist, seek out situations in which your abilities will be appropriate. If your heart is into jazz and you are not the greatest reader, you will want to seek out a group in which you can express yourself musically in your own personal way—without the requirement of great reading skills.

The next step is to analyze your weaknesses. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Half of being smart is knowing what you are not good at.” Make a list of skills or areas in which you need improvement. Will the things you need to work at prevent you from achieving your goals? For example, if you have meter or tempo problems, there are things you can do to help overcome them (such as practicing with a metronome, records, or a drum machine). In a recent MD article, Steve Smith explained quite clearly some of the ways in which he worked to improve his sense of time. No matter what your situation is, you can always improve. Seek to eliminate your weaknesses and keep learning.

Next, analyze your goals. Are they realistic? Are they achievable? What would you like to be doing five, ten, and 20 years from now? What will it take to get you where you want to be? What will it take to do what you want to do? Make a list of the things you will have to improve at in order to make your goals a reality.

You may also want to have a plan “B.” What will you do if things just don’t work out the way you planned? You might want to open a drum shop, write drum books, teach, go into business, or even study astronomy. A plan “B” gives you the sense that you have something to fall back on if needed. This takes the “do-or-die” pressure out of pursuing a career. You can say to yourself, “I’ll give it my best shot. If it doesn’t work, I can always go to plan ‘B.’ “

Last but not least, be flexible as you pursue your goals. Music is changing all the time, and the music business is always changing. Situations also change. A number of bandleaders attained that position when the original leader got sick or retired. Even if this wasn’t their original goal, they took advantage of the opportunity. In my own case, I never thought about doing studio work until someone offered me a TV show. I needed the work and quickly accepted the offer. I supported my family, and I also learned a lot. Many of today’s top percussion manufacturers started out to be drummers. Somewhere along the line, they had a new idea or saw a previously unconsidered opportunity. They modified their original goals to adjust to changing times and new situations.

Try to analyze where you are versus where you want to be. Determine what it will take to get you where you want to be (including what you need to improve at), and then go for it. Don’t try to be “the greatest”; do strive to be the best you can be. Be flexible, and by all means, persevere. You only live once!