Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Persistence Turns to Stubbornness

Responding to some questions from a fellow blogger a while back, I was asked what my greatest strength and weakness are. I replied, respectively, "Persistence" and "Stubbornness." Those are two words with somewhat similar denotations (Both are listed as synonyms of "Determination" in one online thesaurus.) but vastly different connotations.

When I gave that answer, I wasn't being at all sarcastic. I believe that my persistence is an asset in many ways -- I've been specifically lauded for that on the job, and I know that without persistence it would be hard to make any headway as a writer. Being persistent involves having confidence in what you believe and the willingness to act in a way consistent with that confidence particularly when obstacles are in your way. Specific to writing, your belief might be something specific such as "My novel represents a story that people will enjoy reading" or as general as "I will be a published writer someday." Persistence is what keeps you going when your novel has already been rejected a dozen times or when you've spent hundreds of hours on writing without a single word sold yet. Persistence would rarely be considered a character flaw.

Stubbornness, on the other hand, would. What is the difference between persistence and stubbornness? Here are two possible answers:
  1. Persistence relies on at least some evidence; stubbornness relies on defying evidence. If people who can give you a fair critique of your novel have read it and found it to have merit, then pressing on with it would be an example of persistence. On the other hand, if everyone except for those who would feel compelled to say nice things about your novel has expressed real reservations about it, then pressing on -- without stepping back to consider ways that it could be improved -- probably is more stubbornness.
  2. Stubbornness is more likely to involve hurting people (yourself or others) than persistence. It's hard for me to say that persistence never involves people being hurt in one way or another. There are certainly some situations where a laudatory goal involves some level of sacrifice. That said, if you're neglecting your own health or happiness or that of family members due to the degree of tenacity you are applying to any activity then it's worth, at the very least, sitting down and being honest with yourself and others about the choices you're making.
Summarizing those two, I'd describe stubbornness as being "persistence which is destructive or based on refusal to consider that you might be wrong." I'm sure there are other possible descriptions. But I know that I cross that line from persistent to stubborn at times; it's something I often struggle with. Considering such topics as the nature of things which I can control has been helpful in learning to harness the benefits of my persistence without paying the price for stubbornness. I'm better at making those judgments now than I was ten years ago and I hope and expect that ten years from now I'll be better still.

What about you? Would you define persistence and stubbornness differently? Are there other virtues which you sometimes take beyond the point of them being virtuous to the point of them being negative?


  1. Every good trait becomes a bad trait when taken to the extreme :)

    Good post!

  2. Someone once told me that a person's greatest virtue is also their fatal flaw. Persistence and stubbornness do come out of the same place but as you said, if you take persistence too far, it turns detrimental.

  3. I agree whole-heartedly. Persistence can be wonderful in helping a writer to stand against some negativity. But if a writer just refuses to take a second look, another gander, to stay rooted in one spot instead of adjustable, I'd call that stubbornness. Unfortunately, there is a possibility for any positive to lean to the extreme and become a fault.

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I appreciate you all stopping by.