Why do we keep on pushing?

Joan Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California - September 2002

Perseverance is a wonderful skill. It allows its possessor to achieve seemingly unreachable goals long after others have given up. But perseverance can become a nuisance too: to the person owning it, as well as other parties involved. How? Simply by the feeling of obligation within the perseverant person to hold on, even when he or she realizes that the point where insisting made sense has long been exceeded.

To understand the position taken here, we first have to examine the components that determine perseverance. For clarification, we will illustrate the topic with two examples, after which we will evaluate the driving motives behind perseverance.

What creates and enhances perseverance?
Most of us are driven to hold on to something we have started, just because we hate unfinished businesses. We rather deal with complications in the process toward goal achievement, than giving up and walking away. We simply lack the strength to let go of whatever we initiated, even if it becomes a burden. Perseverance may therefore be considered a trait consisting of a sniff of persistence, a grain of ambition, a drop of egotism, a scoop of unbridled concentration, and a large spray of disinterest in possible alternatives. Although these elements can be perceived as a powerful blend, they are also the ingredients that classify perseverance as a weakness sometimes: A person who persists in focusing on a certain achievement can lose all sense of reality and rationale in his/her attempts to reach the goal.

Two examples:

    Picture a person wanting to find a job in a certain work-environment. He/she applies for almost every vacancy published by the organization, hoping to get a foot in the door. Unfortunately, for unclear reasons and in spite of his/her qualifications, this person never gets accepted. In the meantime a number of interesting opportunities come and go. Yet, the hustler misses everything due to his/her concentration on this particular work environment, which, in the end, may turn out to be a major disappointment anyway!

    Picture another (or the same) person desiring a certain potential partner, because he/she figured out that this individual matches in the most important areas, looks attractive, and triggers a chemical reaction that feels just right. Nine times out of ten the go-getter will stop looking for alternatives, no matter how many present themselves, even when it seems practically impossible to ever really be with the person in focus, whether that is because this individual is already attached, or is simply lacking the necessary return-interest in the perseverant one.

In both examples the persevering character becomes a loser in more than one way: he/she wastes valuable time and potential chances on happiness or contentment, just because he/she keeps focusing on one single, solitary goal. And the saddest part is, that the opportunities presented along the way could have turned out to work much better if only this person had cared and dared enough to try them out!

So, what may be the driving motive behind perseverance?
How about competitiveness? How about revenge? Could it be that perseverant people can only obtain peace of mind when an initially set goal is reached, even if it turns out to be worthless once achieved? Could it be that persevering people are more often than they would like to admit controlled by their desires in such a way that they become submissive vehicles of their own character? And could it then be that a perseverant person is actually a weaker personality than a quitter? Maybe it all depends...