When Persistence is Just Plain Stupid

by Jennifer Miller on July 11, 2016

in Personal Effectiveness

stupid grit quoteWhen my kids were babies, it was fascinating to watch them learn to walk. One of my kids was determined from a very early age—far before it was physically feasible—to stand upright in what my husband and I can only assume was an attempt to begin to walk. We have pictures of our seven-month old child doing a downward dog-type yoga pose, with baby hands and feet planted on the floor, and a teeny, diaper-clad baby butt jutting towards the sky.

Of course, it was many months before that baby actually learned to walk. In the months between the first attempt and the actual first steps, there were tears, falling down and loads of frustration. But there was no way to communicate, “in all due time, my sweet one.” So the persistence continued, unabated. Like Greek mythology’s Sisyphus doomed to forever roll the boulder back up the mountain, persisting towards an unattainable is defeating.

Today, twelve years after the baby yoga-posing, that same child is still very driven to achieve, but at least we now have a way to communicate when the time has come to seek an alternate path when “try harder” just isn’t cutting it.

Pursuing a goal with tenacity is admirable. Big goals require grit. Equally important is the ability to figure out when it’s time to take a new direction. Otherwise, it’s just “stupid grit,” as Caroline Adams Miller, author of the forthcoming book Getting Grit calls it. I long ago learned to help my children see the difference between dogged pursuits at all costs and tweaking a goal to better fit the realities of life.

It’s not always easy to know when it’s time to move on. Western society reveres persistence. The quote, “Never, never, never give up” is often attributed to Winston Churchill, when in fact he did not say those exact words. What he did say, in a 1941 speech to the boys at Harrow School (according to The Churchill Centre) is:

“Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

To me, the element that is often lost when paraphrasing Churchill’s words is, “good sense.” Relentless pursuit of a goal, when it’s clear that, as Miller said, it’s time to pivot, is stupid. It doesn’t show good sense. Pivoting isn’t giving up. But when you can discern when it’s time to either move on or change directions, you save yourself a lot of mental anguish and frustration.

Food for thought: when in your life have you succumbed to “stupid grit?”

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