Is Persistence Holding You Back?

My whole life I’ve been taught the value of persistence. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It takes a hundred “no’s” to get to “yes.” In the words of the Old Philosopher (you’ll need to be over 50 to remember this), “Never give up, never give up, never give up that ship!” Persistence is the first of the seven characteristics of the women in Fifty Over Fifty. Persistence is a key component of resilience.

Persistence is what kept Sharon cold calling local businesses until she got an order that was the first step in creating a very successful construction company. Persistence is what led Herta to decide to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro a second time, leading to not only summiting but creating a video, raising money for a charity and writing a best-selling leadership book based on her experience. Who could argue with the value of persistence?

But there’s a downside to persistence. Sometimes giving up is exactly the right thing to do. Optimism is a major component of persistence. It’s what keeps us pushing that rock uphill or going to yet another networking event or replanting the strawberries. And optimism is, in general, a good thing. It turns out, though, that there’s realistic optimism and foolish optimism. Realistic optimism should be the driver of persistence. The task is doable; the goal is realistic. Expanding additional effort and adapting based on what was learned from earlier attempts has every chance of yielding the desired results.

Sharon, for example, didn’t give up when potential clients weren’t buying the product she was trying to sell. She figured out that, even if they didn’t need windows, they must need something – so she asked what they needed, said she could do that and went out and made it happen. Herta figured out that bad weather, poor leadership and a lack of team spirit thwarted her first attempt to summit, so she put together a team, assumed joint leadership and started off in better weather.

Buying lottery tickets is most likely foolish optimism. As a possible supplement to other income streams, it may not be a terrible idea, but persisting in relying on lottery tickets as a sole source of income just isn’t going to work out well for most people. Neither is persisting in activities that shouldn’t be done at all. I think about my father and the strawberry bed. He wanted to grow strawberries. He knew that he could grow strawberries. He was going to grow strawberries. He planted them and fussed over them and weeded them and loosened the soil around them and watered them. He gave those strawberries every ounce of energy he had. And they wouldn’t grow. Finally, after a season or two, he just gave up. We had enough strawberries to feed the entire neighborhood after he gave up. Turned out, all that persistence was stopping the berries from growing. They needed to be left alone.

So, is persistence holding you back? Are you being foolishly optimistic or overprotective or trying the same thing without variation? Maybe it’s time to step back and reassess.

P.S. If you need a nostalgic moment, here’s the Old Philosopher on YouTube.

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