Perseverance: (noun) continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.
Stubbornness: (noun) performed or carried on in an unyielding, obstinate, or persistent manner.
I was thinking about these two words the other day and realized they have a lot in common. The main difference is the connotation that each word evokes. Showing perseverance is generally considered a positive quality. On the other hand, stubbornness is usually a negative trait.
The reality is there is not that much difference between the two words, even though they might be considered antonyms for each other. If I dive deep enough into my character, I think I am both of these things. I would argue that there are times when we should be both.
People are motivated by many different factors, but haven’t we all been in a place where we wanted to prove to ourselves or someone else that we had what it took? I used to play little league baseball, and I was a decent enough player. One of my claims to fame was that I once threw a no-hitter. Yet, if someone were to ask me what perhaps my favorite individual moment in baseball was, it was the time I drilled one of Ken Swanson’s fastballs right back over his head.
I was not trying to hurt him, and I didn’t derive pleasure from his close call. I’m sure I would have felt awful if that ball hit him in the face. The reason I got such satisfaction was that he was the most dominant pitcher in the league. He threw so hard that half of the kids who faced him were bailing out of the batter’s box before he delivered the heat. The truth was he had struck me out several times before that during the season. He was tall, strong, and had developed a reputation for being unhittable. I probably thought I didn’t stand a chance, but each time I wanted that opportunity to prove to myself and others that I could do it. In a word, I was stubborn.
There have also been times where I was so stubborn when common sense should have prevailed. One of the first instances was the time I tried to repair a collapsing fence. We live in a mild place close to the Pacific Ocean. One reason my wife and I like it here is that it never gets too hot or cold. It only gets above 70 degrees Fahrenheit a few days in the summer and even more rarely dips below freezing in the winter.
I had traveled to the edge of the Central Valley of California to meet who was to become my future mother-in-law. Recently divorced after thirty-eight years of marriage, she had many things that needed fixing around her property. The most immediate problem was the rotted fence that separated her from the neighbor’s cows, goats, and horses. The situation was urgent, and I felt compelled to help my future mother-in-law. It was well over 100 degrees, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It wouldn’t have been that difficult a job for two guys, but there was no one else around to help. Foolishly, I worked in the heat for several hours, and I did manage to complete the job. The downside was that I came down with heatstroke.
I’m sure some male ego was involved as I wanted to prove my worth in completing this task. I spent the next three days in bed with a high fever. The fact that the temperatures were still close to ninety at night didn’t help. What I accomplished didn’t prove I was a worthy man. It was more a reflection of stubborn judgment. If I were in similar circumstances today, I’d like to think I would make a more prudent choice.
Another example of my stubbornness was the time the ladder slipped when I was painting our house. Like many teachers, I tried to earn money in the summer by working. I had my own painting business for over twenty years. I had finally reached a point where the income wasn’t necessary, and I was no longer enjoying the tedious and sometimes physical work. I decided to paint our house before hanging up my sprayer, rollers, and brushes for good for my swan song.
I was prepping the house using a pressure washer to remove the mildew and was more than halfway done when the accident occurred. I foolishly tried to climb an extension ladder on our wet deck. When I was two-thirds of the way up the ladder, it suddenly slipped. I was tossed and landed directly onto the deck with my back absorbing most of the impact. I was stunned and hurt. At first, it was impossible to determine how injured I was as I had the wind knocked out of me and was having trouble breathing. My wife was at work, but our junior high son was inside the house and heard the thump outside and came to check on me.
I refused an ambulance ride and discouraged my son from calling his mom. Instead, my thought was to finish what I had started. I had rented that pressure washer for the day and was determined to get my money’s worth. Some might compliment me on my tenacity and toughness, but it was a stupid thing to do. With my son assisting me, we finished using the pressure washer, brought it back to the rental place, and drove to the ER. By the time the doctor saw me, the pain had increased to an 11 on a 1-10 pain scale. To no one’s surprise, I had sustained a compression fracture.
I’m not sure if the value of hard work is instinctive or learned behavior. My sense is it is more of the latter. Both of my parents were diligent workers, and my brothers and I also share that trait. I see that quality in our son, and it makes me proud that he is so independent and hard-working.
What do perseverance and stubbornness have to do with writing? As someone who didn’t start writing until he retired, it means there isn’t time for all of the self-doubt and roadblocks that we sometimes create for ourselves. Instead of looking for excuses not to write, I am focused and determined. There is too much to learn at my age to get sidetracked. When my writing group was unable to meet for many weeks, I sat in with another group. One of the people in the group said that she had been working on her novel for sixteen years. At first, I thought she was joking, but then I realized she was serious. I’ve always believed that people should do whatever works for them, but I wondered if this was an act of stubbornness on her part. As someone who has perfectionist tendencies, I understood her plight. At the same time, there are times when we have to persevere and finish what we started.
Use the support of your fellow writers. The absolute best thing I’ve done in my writing was to surround myself with other like-minded people. The people who attend are serious, trying to master the many challenges the skill presents. My critique group offers helpful suggestions, and I feel like I have a unique opportunity. I am not going to waste that chance. I will persevere and even be stubborn on occasion, but I will finish the job.