I came across this Henry Ward Beech quote in my morning reading: “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.” First I laughed, then I wondered about those two words. Is obstinacy seen as a negative because people associate it with saying no? We praise those who persevere, but is persevering all about saying yes? Isn’t there room for a little no?
Persevering and being obstinate are both about sticking to your purpose. What we say “YES” to in our lives is what we devote ourselves to: our spouses, our children, our jobs. We stick with them—we persevere—because of this strong will, the strong “I will.” But having the time to devote to the important people and tasks in our lives also depends on our ability to say “NO” to others. We’re trained from childhood to do what we’re told, to compromise and go with the flow, but with so many claims on our time and attention, the ability to say no to what doesn’t work for us isn’t just important, it’s necessary. Is this being “stubborn” or “obstinate”?
Perhaps the real difference between perseverance and obstinacy is in your perspective. When your toddler begs for candy in the grocery store, she’s being obstinate because you want her to stop. You want to be able to present the argument that will calm her, persuade her to give up, but she is unyielding. That makes her stubborn, obstinate; but to her, doesn’t this feel like perseverance? Do you sometimes feel that people call you stubborn just because they don’t share your vision or purpose?
The business people I find inspiring (and OK, I’m talking about Tony Hsieh again) are always saying YES: to new employees, original thinking, innovative solutions. They’re also always saying NO: to inefficiency, ill-timed buyouts, dead-end projects. The parents I find inspiring also say YES a lot, but at some times that’s overwhelmed by the NO: no you cannot eat another cookie, no you cannot pierce your eyebrows, no you cannot get a motorcycle. Just like good business people, good parents persevere with a little obstinacy.
What do you think? Do you find yourself saying I won’t just as much as I will?