Saintly Tenacity and its Evil Twin

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.” 
— Louis Pasteur

Louis isn’t the only smart cookie to have figured out that he got where he did by being dogged about his goal. All kinds of adventurers and entrepreneurs understand that simply keeping at it, despite setbacks, is responsible for a lot of success. More than skills or smarts. Or funding. Because when you’re tenacious, you find ways to get that other stuff or go around it.

Tenacity is particularly handy when the shit hits the fan, as it often does if you’re trying to accomplish something new. It keeps your eye on the prize and your heart out of the loser zone of “I’ll never manage this’. Those of you familiar with my writing already will know that I think most things can be learned. So if you aren’t genetically blessed with a bunch of tenacity, you can get yourself some all the same.

Here’s how.

Clarify your goals. Just what is it you’re keeping your eye on? Just as it’s easier to keep on a straight path in a boat or on a bike when you’re focused on the horizon instead of three feet in front of you, the same thing works here. Know precisely what the end goal looks like, so it doesn’t matter how you have to shuck and jive, you can recognize it from any angle.

Know what you have going for you already. Women have an alarming tendency to disregard their achievements when they’re going for the next goal. It’s as though all that brilliant stuff along the way was done by somebody else. By the time you’re in need of a dose of tenacity, chances are you’ve already made some headway on that end goal you clarified above. Remind yourself of it when you start to flag. As in, hot damn, I really have done some amazing things that suggest I’m actually capable of doing this, too.

Understand your fear. A lot of dream-abandonment comes because obstacles offer us excuses to stop, and fear makes us leap at the chance to do so. The more you can analyze your fear as an objective thing, rather than something that’s just generally hovering like a foggy evilness around your brain, the more you’ll be able to figure out how to get past it and stay on track.

Take baby steps. Sometimes getting to a goal is very slow work. It can feel like you’ve lost all momentum. But accomplishing some small thing constantly, rather than looking at a big, looming thing and feeling intimidated, keeps you moving forward. You might have your eye on the summit as your end goal, but the mountain is still climbed one step at a time.


Sadly, mindless devotion to tenacity can take a good thing and turn it bad. Hanging on for the sake of hanging on is called the Sunk Cost Fallacy. That’s where you keep putting time, heart, and energy for too long into things that suck you up and don’t give enough back. Things like marriages and other relationship that are way past their best before dates, or books that you read to the bitter end even though they were terrible from chapter one, or sticking with a job that you hate but promises to give you advancement if you just hang in there.

We do this dumb thing because we’ve already invested so much of ourselves, we feel it would be wasteful to just throw all that effort away and abandon ship. But there are times when ‘buy and hold’ doesn’t lead to ‘prosper’.

So every once in awhile you have to take a good, hard look at that prize you’ve been after and reassess whether it’s still worth the effort. An honest cost-benefit appraisal, not a quick ‘icebergs might lie ahead so I’m going to abandon ship before it gets tough’ knee-jerk, scaredy-pants reaction.

As with many things, it’s all about the balance.

Go forth and be tenacious. As long as the prize continues to the one you want, it’ll be worth the effort.

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