tenacity keep trying?

Too Much of a Good Thing

On Tenacity

Two scenarios:

A man feels a burning desire to paint. For 25 years, he studies art, makes art, works menial jobs to pay the bills, and calls himself an artist,a  painter. He never sells a painting. He stays focused on his internal flame, even in the complete absence of any external fanning of it.

Does this dedication, this focus, this single-mindedness make the man a winner or a loser?

tenacity keep trying?

Your best friend fancies herself a dancer. She has unwavering dedication to her practice and to her dream of becoming a professional dancer. However it seems clear to you and to others that she has neither the physique nor the talent to achieve her goal.

Would you support her best by encouraging her in this dream or by gently helping her to see other options for herself?

I recently watched the film Little Miss Sunshine again. It’s a fabulous movie that made me think about family, loyalty, tenacity, about where we take our cues from (internal or external), about what we allow to limit us. I laughed and laughed at the various unexpected plot turns. And I’m still thinking about the plights of the characters.

What do you think?  Does unwavering tenacity make you a winner or a loser? Can a person be too tenacious when it comes to a dream?

And if so, How would a person know when to drop their dream?

More on Tenacity

guide to living in open adoption

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a young adult daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

27 thoughts on “Too Much of a Good Thing”

  1. 1. easy–definitely a winner. life’s a journey not a destination. my vote is for those who give their all to whatever their passion is. i feel sad for those who don’t have passion.2. easy again-real friends would offer genuine feedback. to me, honesty (said with kindness and compassion of course) is the key to trust and trust is the key to true friendship.fun questions.i loved the movie too!mb

  2. “…the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop with only one day remaining, how can you admire the moon over the capital? ” – Nichiren Daishonin.I’m all for pursuing your dreams. But if dreams are not build on realistic actions then they are fantasies. Big difference.

  3. Such a good question. I think any passion to the point where you’re driving away all other possibilities isn’t healthy–whether you’re a winner or a loser at that activity. But in both cases you present, I’d actually see both as winners for finding something they enjoy and as long as the activity is not destroying their self-esteem, I’d encourage them to keep at it.That said, I absolutely HATE it when people say something like “anything is possible! Believe in your dreams.” Because there are things that are impossible. No matter how much I practice, I will never be on the WNBA, and if that’s my goal, it will always be out of reach. On the other hand, if I’m happy to simply play basketball and play it as often as a professional player, well, sure, go for it, Mel. What? I don’t even play basketball at all.

  4. Such a great movie! I think this issue is one of those fine lines that is difficult to see buried in the sand.Dreams should always be pursued and encouraged as long as they don’t hurt anyone and don’t prevent someone from supporting themselves. As long as you enjoy doing something, I see no harm in doing it even if you suck at it provided that you are able to make a living-whether it is through that particular activity, or through a day job.I guess I would look at it and encourage the people in the examples above to pursue their dreams as a hobby as opposed to a career. I don’t think this necessarily means you are giving up on your dream. It just means you are being realistic about life, but still doing what you love to do.

  5. A thought:By all standards of rationality, someone should have stopped Olive from participating in the competition.There were several moments when loving people in the movie tried to gently discourage her and acquaint her with reality. Her father implied that her body type wasn’t star material. Even her brother, with his dreams of being a pilot shattered tried to get the mother to prevent her. He wanted to protect her from being eaten alive by an obviously cruel competition community.Her mother listened to her heart, and listened to Olive, and magic resulted. She transcended the pettiness of the devotees–triumph and healing resulted for her entire family.Had her family succeeded in disabusing her of her passion, she would have been left far short of what she achieved.Yeah, it was a movie, but still…

  6. My thought would be that it depends on what the person’s feelings about the activity are. Does s/he enjoy it and feel fulfilled by it? Or does the frustration and the sadness that s/he is never going to be a “success” in the eyes of the world predominate?

  7. Such great insights!Denise — good point about hobby vs career.Mel, if only your online stature could dribble, you’d definitely be WNBA material.Deathstar — dream vs fantasy, good distinction.MB — me, too. I’m so glad your passion is available for the world to see.

  8. Olive’s mom sacrificed her time, her family’s time, and her money, for her daughter’s happiness, like many parents do. I like that she did this even though she knew her daughter wasn’t going to win. She valued her daughter’s happiness above all else, and it’s inspiring to see that devoted love. As it turned out, everyone in the family was affected in a positive way by Olive’s and mom’s tenacity.But I think a general answer depends on whether you have others depending on you who could be affected in a negative way by your tenacity. I have a husband who is driven to find true happiness in a career, not a bad goal. His passion is to help people, not a bad passion. He wants to go back to school in his late 40s for a degree in social work — he’ll make a lot less money but will feel fulfilled. If he didn’t want children, the drop in income would be relatively harmless. But I think when you have people depending on you, you need to consider their needs first. Not that you shouldn’t consider your own, but you need to weigh theirs in, and heavily. One more thought. It’s good to add three words to the old adage “it’s better to try and fail than never try at all”….”to a point.”

  9. Niobe — excellent distinction.Ex — my heart soared during that transcendence scene. I loved that her family did what they did for Olive.Heidi — I see what you mean. When one’s decision affect others, one must factor in the others.Kami — I was also wonderng how this tenacity applied to IF. How does one be both passionate and realistic at the same time? Like you say, flexibility is key.

  10. I loved that movie too. I do think that pursuing a dream can bring happiness, but if the happiness only comes from achieving the dream there might be times to give up.I think this comes up a lot when dealing with infertility. You can keep trying for a baby in a certain way that may never be successful. When do you pursue an alternate path and when do you keep trying the one that you are on? Not willing to be flexible or change your view of the dream could lead to only more heartache.

  11. Your scenario is about a person who wants to paint. It neither cites a person who wants to sell paintings nor a person seeking validation from others.

    It seems to me that they are meeting with success.

  12. Owie. Such a deep question for a Monday morning. I think in the first scenario, the unwavering tenacity to doing what makes you happy definitely makes you a winner. In the second scenario, the dream is dependent on others (people need to think you’re good enough to pay to dance), so that’s when reality needs to be acknowledged. I love basketball, but given my age, my height & weight, and my gender, no amount of practicing will land me in the NBA. 🙂

  13. What an interesting question…the first scenario does seem to have someone achieving their dream despite an absence of external help/support, since as PP have mentioned, he’s painting and happy with what he’s doing.

    The difference in the second scenario is that the friend is planning to seek external validation for her dancing/dream in the form of a job offer. There’s going to be a difficult awakening when that doesn’t happen because of things she simply can’t change despite all of her work. In other words, she isn’t going to achieve her dream – it’s not just an internal journey, there’s an external component to it.

    I suppose when it comes to dreams, it’s important to look at both the internal components (largely within one’s own control) and the external components (often more out of one’s own control). For me, whether or not to let go is separating out as objectively as possible what is in my control and what isn’t…and once the balance is tipped where to a large extent, I’m not fulfilling the dream AND the component needed to fulfill it is out of my control – that’s where I usually start the process of detaching and grieving the dream.

  14. I just watched Little Miss Sunshine for the first time! So good!

    A “winner” can look a lot of different ways. I think a lot of it comes down to your goals and what you want your life to look like in the meantime. Unexpected things can stand in the way of your goals – even if you’re an excellent dancer, painter, etc., – so I think you have to weigh that when you’re determining how hard to push for what you want.

  15. I love the distinctions being made here — where is the drive? Where is the satisfaction? Who does your decision affect? How does your tenacity affect your whole life?

    I think of one of my good friends from college. Art major, artist. This person worked menial jobs and focused on painting, and this was good for a while. But later, a new direction took hold, and she found a career that incorporates some of her artistic drive into what she does every day to pay the bills, and makes time to paint as well. She is one of my role models for what success looks like.

    I think that, as an adult, you take on the responsibility of supporting yourself and living your life. Whatever your passions or goals, these have to be part of the considerations. You may also marry, partner, have kids, have pets, buy property. All of these are also factors. You get to decide what your life looks like (in concert with the people you’ve chosen to share it with), So how do you incorporate your passion and drive into the life you’ve chosen to live?

    Personally, I’m looking at the role models around me right now as my passions and purposes have shifted drastically in the past few years and I’m trying to figure out how to make it all work. Right now, that involves doing a lot of work I do not like at all, frankly.

  16. That is one of my all time favorite movies. I think tenacity is super important — the ability to have a dream and pursue it despite difficulties or challenges is such a character-building thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I agree with some commenters above about honesty with your friend (and yourself)…although I can speak from experience that you can’t let go of a dream until you’re ready. Other people’s thoughts can contribute to the finger-by-finger releasing of the deathgrip, but ultimate the person who holds the dream that isn’t possible or healthy anymore has to make that decision on their own. And it is a devastating process to go through, but so freeing when you realize that your goal just isn’t going to happen for you. Then you find a new outlet for all that energy and hope it brings you to something better. Great post, very thought-provoking.

  17. Do not know anything about the movie so can’t comment on that, but in general agree with those who say you have to take into account others affected by pursuit of a dream, and whether one can actually turn it into a career, or keep it as a passionate hobby.

    Does it enhance your life or is it a delusion that is detracting from relationships and other aspects of life? Most people are not going to have a career in sports or the arts where they can support themselves, but anyone can keep painting, join a local team, keep up ballet lessons etc while keeping their day job and everyday responsibilities.

  18. I feel like I had this conversation with students when we read _Meaning in Life and Why It Matters_ … I was torn even then. For me, I think there’s an aspect of this that connects with a greater good. If you’re just pursuing your own dreams that will never be realized and you do so at the expense of other people (i.e. are you neglecting your responsibilities to feed your kids because you don’t sell your paintings), then maybe you’ve taken things too far. But if you’re doing something you love and you don’t harm other people in the process of your pursuit of happiness, and in fact if your happiness produces something good for the world (more happiness), then I don’t think there’s any harm in doing so. Interesting that in both of these cases there’s what we think of as “talent” involved. What if the skill is something that, with enough practice, one CAN really learn?

  19. I’m all for anyone pursuing anything they want, however doggedly they want…as long as there is no cost to anyone else. But then, I am strong on the duties/responsibilities front. Dreams are for when all the required work is complete. Are you fed, housed, and clothed? Then, have at it.

  20. I think it’s all how you measure success. If the dancer sets the bar to clear as getting paid to perform in a show, I don’t know if I would encourage her if I thought she had zero chance. If the dancer sets her bar as just enjoying dance for the sake of dance, I would tell her to shake her tush.

  21. You ask some tough questions lady… An artist is an artist from their very soul. Some writers, for example, are satisfied writing and putting it in a drawer never to see the light of day. As for the dancer… I’ve worked with a lot of comedians who somehow seemed to get worse over time but it’s not up to me to discourage anyone with a dream especially an acquaintance… However, my daughter is a great singer & I’ve told her that if she weren’t, I would (gently) tell her what I really felt. If she still wanted to pursue it, I would be behind her. I didn’t think it was fair to kids on American Idol who were lousy but thought they were talented because family & friends had told them so for years.

  22. I read this post last week, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Some things made me uncomfortable. The concept of being a “winner” or a “loser” made me shudder.

    Of course, I know that in the infertility community, there are many who would view me as a “loser.” Obviously, as a woman who is living without children after infertility, I don’t think tenacity at all costs is admirable. I think knowing when to turn your efforts to something else is admirable.

  23. I hadn’t thought of this in the realm of infertility, but yes, the concept of coming out of it either a “winner” or a “loser” certainly does apply.

    The dad in the film was a motivational speaker (a struggling one, at that), and he kept making the discernment, “Are you gonna be a winner or a loser?”

    It’s too dichotomous to me, too.

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