One of the values that many of us hold is perseverance, which is defined as steadfastness in doing something despite delay or difficulty in achieving success. This is a value that can be very beneficial in life, but is there a point where it can move from being a positive to a punishment?
When we value perseverance, we don’t give up, we challenge ourselves to stick with something when it is not easy, we push through the difficulties to achieve success. This is positive, right? We all know someone, or maybe we are the one, who keeps trying and doesn’t give up. I know people who have stuck with a job, despite not feeling they are achieving things, they tell themselves things like “It will get better, keep going! You will achieve success.” And others who are in relationships that are less than they desire and, same thing, they tell themselves “Just keep going, keep trying it will work out.” This optimistic, loyal attitude can get you far in life for sure, so what could possibly be the down side of it?
The other side of perseverance could be struggle, settling, pushing and conflict. That is not so positive. It sounds more like a punishment than a value. So the question is, when does perseverance move from a positive to a punishment?
In my experience, it all comes down to the motivation and the reasons for the steadfastness.
Let’s look closer at the two examples above. First, the job. Sure, you are challenging yourself to stick with the job you are being loyal to the organization. You are possibly learning, growing new skills, you are being a good employee, you are contributing, you are employed doing something that you are passionate about (maybe not all the time), but most mornings you are happy to go to work.
The flip side of this if you are settling for something that doesn’t excite you and stresses you out and the rewards of achievement are not coming, but you continue to stick with it because you are employed. Both of these descriptions are two sides of a coin. And the difference is the motivation behind your perseverance.
So, are you telling yourself “Just stick with it because you want to learn and grow”? Or “Just stick with this because you should be able to do this, you should be better than this”? Are you staying at the job because you want to be loyal or because you are scared people will judge you for leaving? Are you persevering because you are excited about the challenge or are you doing it because you are a failure if you don’t? The energy and self-talk behind the two are very different. If you are staying in the job because you are a failure if you leave, you should be doing better, people will judge you and you have to because it is a job, then guess what? Your perseverance has turned into a punishment. I am sure you can recognize this person in your work place. They are the ones who look completely unhappy and they seem to be carrying a thousand-pound weight and they most likely are pretty negative! Yuck! If this is what is keeping you in your job it’s time for some serious self-evaluation!
On the other hand, if you are truly persevering then you are excited about the challenge, committed to figuring things out, you are challenged and enjoy your work and the thought of future achievements excites and inspires you. If this is the case, you are in a good space you and your value of perseverance is serving you well!
Looking at the relationship example, I am sure you can all recall a couple you have known who you think should not be in a relationship, or maybe that’s you! Same thing as above, if you are staying in that relationship because it’s important to you and you truly love this person and want to grow together, then great! It’s your perseverance that will help you make it through the difficult times. If, on the other hand, you are staying in the relationship because there may not be anyone else out there, or being in an ok or crappy relationship is better than being single, or you should be able to work things out, then you are punishing yourself!
Unfortunately, most times when our perseverance is a punishment, it takes us leaving the situation to realize that we were not really as happy as we thought. I have heard countless times “as soon as I left and was away from the situation for a little while I realized the toll (the job or relationship) was taking on my life. I feel healthier, less stressed out and just around all happier.” I have said those exact words myself!
So, if you are wondering if your value of perseverance is actually a punishment ask yourself “Why am I persevering?” The answer you get will tell you! If you are sticking with it because of fear, or self-judgement then it’s no longer perseverance, it’s punishment. If you do find you are punishing yourself, leaving the situation doesn’t have to be the only outcome, sometimes all you need is a change in perspective and you will switch your punishment to perseverance.