The Dark Power of Perseverance No-One Talks About (But Should)

The Dark Power of Perseverance No-one Is Talking About

I think perseverance / resilience / grit / commitment are important values.  Values that are critical to our success.  To the point, I don’t believe natural talent scores over these gritty contributors.  Really.   

And perseverance ranks top in my own list of values-in-action.  So, I feel like I know about this from a few different directions.

While I feel slightly unfaithful – because I love Angela Duckworth’s book ‘Grit’, I’m going to illuminate the darker side of perseverance.

Why?  Because it’s a big problem no-one is talking about.  Because every leadership coaching client of mine, past and present (and likely future) is already good at grit.  Too good.  

And as I write, I’ve just finished a conversation with another smart, successful professional who was deeply puzzled at being dangerously bored doing what he’s always done – and still does well

He increasingly feels all sorts of things ranging from guilt to desperation.   This is not unusual.  Or a luxury problem.  It’s truly hard maintaining a role that no longer feels aligned with what matters to us.  It’s the big giveaway that strengths are not the same thing as values.  And if we misguidedly use perseverance to keep going regardless, we get in deeper and deeper trouble. 

Why do we do that to ourselves? Because that’s what makes sense rationally.  Or because we can’t grasp a clear idea of what to do otherwise. 

So, we employ resilience.  Right? Wrong!  

Sometimes it is more important to ‘keep calm and think twice’ than it is to ‘keep calm and carry on’.


Spot the Signpost

Stop and think twice

In her book, Duckworth writes: ‘grit is about working on something you care about so much you’re willing to stay loyal to it…not just falling in love [with what you do] – staying in love’

So, in early conversations with clients I often say things that go against what people understand about persevering.  I’m aware when it is their first time hearing another perspective.

It can feel confronting and alarming or a huge relief for people as I illuminate why maintaining the status quo can be self-sabotage.  If they’re no longer in love with it.  Instead, perseverance has crossed to the dark side: keeping us trapped, out of fear of the disruptive change that could set us free from this oppressive feeling. From letting it suck the joy out of an otherwise perfectly lovely life. 

Towards the end of this coaching conversation, I ask if he feels it is time to act?  I need to assess his readiness, his commitment to the change he says he wants. 

Because the tipping point for change is all about timing – it is not about being a bold or impulsive change-maker.  That would be stupid.  And my clients are a particular breed – smart and already successful.  But with a crossroads to navigate or a career problem to solve so they can get unstuck. 

My approach to leadership coaching is most powerful for those who know they want support getting this handled. Want to puzzle at it with someone objective until they have the clarity they need to make a plan realigning what they do with those things that matter most.  And then get support to act on that.  And be held accountable so they do. 

Their first step is about recognising something important has shifted and impacted their work.  This thing likely lies between their personal and professional lanes. 

This puzzle piece has been a powerful part of the coaching conversation today.  It has touched a nerve and been uncomfortable.  But also immensely worth it. 

Because facing up to that is how people come to terms with the fact their numb or desperate feelings have a name. Unfulfilled. Unhappy.  And when they can see it, they don’t want to be it. They know unfulfilled is untenable.  

So, we act on that and make a plan that navigates their career crossroads, together.

Keep Calm And Think Twice

Think twice because it’s transformative to live the life we didn’t know we want

Meaning is actually our most important psychological need.  That’s why belonging, connectedness and our relationships are so critical.  And guess what, it shows up with real power at the developmental milestone most of us hit around 40ish.  And lingers for a decade or so! 

When our career-building chapter may be done or thereabouts.  We have the house, the shiny car, go on holidays.  Often around this time, this coincides with leadership positions that move my clients away from doing what they enjoyed most about their careers on the way up. 

They’re well-established. Highly competent in their work. So think being unfulfilled doesn’t make much sense.  We think achieving all that is what was meant to make us happy. 

That’s why unfulfilled feelings come into focus as a threat to all that we’ve worked for.  Instead of a prompt to review, revise and set fresh redesign goals.  Goals that make sense of where we’ve come from but are congruent with who we are today.

Leadership coaching is often about backing up first.  Keeping calm and thinking twice.  Identifying the need-satisfaction gap. The one where what we do contradicts who we are and the things that matter. From there, we can plan change that realigns work you love with what matters most today.  Purposeful career redesign always comes down to creating synergy between work and life.

Whatever that is for you, and it isn’t always about being a career-changer or shrugging off corporate life to start a business from scratch.  Sometimes it’s about a subtler shift.  A cultural change?  Better work-life balance? Inner-Leadership?  It’s different for everyone but what runs true for us all, is this:

It’s transformative to live the life we sometimes didn’t know we wanted and thrive again.

The Stories That Blind Us

My daughter using her grit

Are you aware of the stories we tell ourselves?   The stories that keep us trapped in a status quo that’s working against us.

  • Never give up. No pain, no gain.  What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger
  • After all this time/commitment/investment, I can’t throw it all out
  • I’ll get a shiny new (car, house, kitchen – Big Ticket Thing) to make work feel worth it

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Optimism has a darker side too.  After all, it would be irresponsible to quit that well-paid work if it supports your lifestyle / family without a plan because you believe something better will come along.  Because you’re optimistic.

So, don’t abdicate responsibility for your next steps to optimism.  But if you’re ignoring important career-change indicators, please spend some time puzzling at these stories you’re telling yourself.  The ones that hold you back and keep you from getting into action.

Are they based on something live today? 

Or are these stories you were somehow brought-up on, or are otherwise outdated?

What If …

What if you were optimistic enough to move past these outdated stories?

What if you believed you are in control of the change you want?

What if you could actively boost your chances at achieving synergy between career and fulfilment?

What if you redeployed all that grit you’re so good at and diverted it towards these hard first steps?

And what if your efforts set you up for success?  Despite the disruption.  

What if you figure out your incongruence today and so you can feel more aligned tomorrow?

What if you persevere in this quest, instead of repeating what used to make sense?

Grit vs. Quit:  Think Twice to Decide Which Is Right

Stop everything, think twice

But, not everyone has a coach to support them through all that.   And it’s a lot. So, taking inspiration from Duckworth’s Grit Scale, I developed a Grit or Quit Indicator to help students of my course think twice and decide which is right for them – in a few minutes – Grit or Quit?


P.S. if you think your friends would like this too, I’d love you to share it. Thanks.

Warmly, Helen


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