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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Other Side of Passion and Perseverance

Among many other qualities and capabilities, knowing and following your passion with perseverance is one that can significantly increase the chances for success and satisfaction. Perseverance and passion have been topics on this blog before, and many scholarly articles and popular books are devoted to these qualities. In this post, however, I want to point out the other side of perseverance. The not so glorious side. The side that is often neglected, denied, repressed, and misinterpreted.

There are probably many more hero–like stories of entrepreneurs overcoming thousands of rejections or overwhelming challenges than victories that you and I have accomplished. They are stories of unbelievably amazing people on never-ending journeys to enduring success, often against all odds. These stories offer universal appeal, that’s clear to me, and in quite a few cases I have high regard for these people, their journeys and their accomplishments. Yes, passion and perseverance combined with knowing where you are heading and whereto are absolutely important ingredients for a successful and satisfying career and life. But what is perseverance exactly and can it go awry? Does it have an expiration date? I think it most certainly does.  
One definition of perseverance is: “Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Another is: “Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” So that is clear, but what is not always clear is where perseverance ends and blind and harmful (and often ego-driven) persistence starts.

How many times have you seen others (or yourself) hold on to a dream too hard and too long? Still pursuing a project that has already taken far too much time and money? How often do you see the ego rather than the head drive the agenda? Can you capitulate, or walk away from something important? This doesn’t exactly sound like an attractive course of action, I know. But retreating does not necessarily mean giving up or lacking perseverance. It might be the smartest thing to do, even saving valuable human and capital resources that prevent the company from suffering due to someone’s inability or unwillingness to retreat. This, of course, is contradictory to what many leadership theories and gurus keep telling us. Just think about slogans such as “Winners never quit and quitters never win”. And sure, the psychological and emotional costs of retreat can be severe, like a bruised self-confidence to mention just one cost. And yes, it can damage your image and your career opportunities. But more often than not it is appreciated if you know when to amend previously held beliefs and if you know how to make mid-term corrections rather than causing mayhem. Walking away does not necessarily mean giving up. It’s about keeping your focus on your strategy and on reality. A focus that sometimes tells you to withdraw and maybe return later, or differently. Perseverance is not the same as continuing, pushing on, forcing your way through impossible obstacles. Perseverance includes having the capacity and demonstrating the courage to remain vigilant and execute the capacity to retreat, rethink, redesign, and return.
In conclusion, as regular readers of this blog know, I too list perseverance as a highly desirable characteristic in life and business. I do, however, also want to warn you for blind persistence, for taking it so many steps too far. As Daniel Ofman taught us, too much of a core quality or a blind version of it, turns sour. It turns from quality to pitfall, from asset to show-stopper. Let’s not let that happen.

1 comment:

  1. Very thought-provoking post, Carolien. Pushing ourselves too hard or hanging on to a dream just a bit after its expiration date can be very challenging.

    Perseverance, persistance and passion are all really important ways we can move forward. That is, if we understand where we truly want to go.

    Thanks for making me think "out of the box" today.

    Stay resilient!


    teve Beseke
    Doctor of 'Life Resiliency
    Now Partnering with the Lennick Aberman Group
    www.resiliencyfirst.com, www.lennick aberman.com