Don’t think you are the smartest person on your work team? Sometimes feel like you work with people who know more or have more skills? I believe working hard can bridge those gaps. Working hard, smart, and consistently is how I built my training and coaching career.
I recommend tenacity as a core competency!
Tenacity: the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly; the quality or fact of being very determined; the quality or fact of continuing to exist; persistence.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of Catherine’s book, “LIVE IT! Mastering Positive Attitude Habits,” available on Amazon:
One of the behaviors I observed repeatedly in college students was the tendency to settle for a low level of thinking and accept their thought process as complete at that level. I’ve probably said, “Push your thinking to the next level. What’s your next idea, and the next one after that?” thousands of times. With practice, most students were able to push through to the next level of thinking; they just needed to break the habit of stopping at their first idea.
I’ve seen the same pattern in many employees. If the thinking is challenging, they too quickly say, “I don’t know,” or some version of, “That won’t work.” Wait a minute, you didn’t even give yourself time to think about it! Managing your mindset includes taking time to think before you give up or choose out.
Saying, “I don’t know,” has its place in continuous improvement and innovation. Confident people are able to admit when they don’t know something. This is part of their desire to experiment and try new things. The issue I’m addressing is saying, “I don’t know,” or “That’s not how we usually do it,” out of habit instead of having the mental tenacity to “grip something firmly” and give it considerable thought.
How is tenacity an important aspect of mastering positive attitude habits? When you see how capable you are of pushing yourself toward quality ideas and new concepts – maybe even ideas everyone else doesn’t have – you cultivate a confident mindset. Tenacity helps you focus on the work stemming from your ideas until the work is complete. You become an employee contributing to the growth of your organization.
You might have to modify the plan to have something work out or complete it, but you don’t give up or take the easy, familiar way out.
It’s easy to give up when something is difficult. That’s why so many people do it. The more people are stuck in mediocrity, the more they project their dissatisfaction onto others. Tenacity is your way out of a mediocre life.
Here are a few examples of a lack of tenacity:
- The person who goes on one or two interviews and doesn’t get the job, and decides to stay stuck in a job that that makes him/her unhappy.
- The person who wants to increase his/her education level, but gets frustrated because it doesn’t look exactly as imagined, or there is some level of risk involved – and years pass without advancing knowledge or skills.
- The person who struggles to learn how computers work or other technology and gives up with the motto of, “I hate computers,” not realizing the limits the choice may impose.
- The person who could advance his/her career with a new skill or advanced knowledge about a particular area, but who struggled to learn the thing and instead shoved it aside and never got back to it.
The list of situations in which a lack of tenacity results in dissatisfaction and leads to negativity in attitude could go on and on…the point is, don’t be that person.
Listen to Catherine discuss this chapter on the Relatable Leader Podcast:
Tenacity is another of those qualities I think can be born into our temperament as well as nurtured. If you don’t have the benefit of being wired with it or trained to not give up until you meet the goal, you will probably have to dig deep and practice tenacity until it becomes habit.
LIVE IT! means believing you won’t give up until you hit your goals. The right attitude will have people counting on you to do what you say you are going to do.
I was lucky. My dad raised us with this saying: “Can’t died a thousand years ago.” I never had the impression saying, “I can’t,” was an option.
I was fortunate to have parents who didn’t discriminate when it came to training skills. My mother taught both my brother and I the basics of homemaking. When it was time to teach my brother how to play baseball, my dad included me. We had a gravel driveway. We learned to field grounders – including back hand bouncers – off that gravel.
For those who haven’t played baseball, when you field a grounder off grass you have a pretty good idea how the bounce will line up. When a ball bounces off gravel, there’s a good chance it’s going to take an unexpected spin; meaning, you’re going to take a hit many times, perhaps even in the face. Dad’s enthusiasm helped me muster the tenacity to stick with it.
He hit ball after ball to my back-hand side, until I confidently rolled my glove hand over into the correct position and went after the ball with confidence instead of shying away from it. If it took a wrong bounce and hit me, he’d ask if I was alright and then say, “That’s alright, you were in the right place,” and we’d keep practicing.
After learning on gravel, you can imagine how great it was when I got to play on grass! Fielding grounders was easy when we put ourselves in the optimum environment for success. Careers are like that too.
And just like job skills, learning how to field grounders led to the next requirement: as part of the same motion to field the grounder, step right into the throw.
My dad also insisted we both throw overhand instead of side-armed. If we were going to do anything, he wanted us to do it correctly. Playing catch was fun as we learned how to throw with the correct form. It turned out that throwing was something I could do well – better than most people my age and it later become my trademark on the field.
Dad taught us how to oil and work our gloves at night while we were watching TV together. He turned taking care of our equipment into a family activity. Tenacity can become such a standard attitude habit, you might not even realize you are practicing this attribute. How many nights did we have to work those gloves before they were soft and fit the form of our hands as if they were made for us? I have no idea. I only remember the ritual that I looked forward to after dinner.
My dad coached Little League so he could have that experience with my brother. Girls were not allowed to play in those days, but my dad took me to batting practice to show the boys how to hit.
At some point my brother turned to motorcycles. I kept playing softball, lied about my age to get on my first team, and ended up playing on several A League championship teams.
Tenacity is central to tournament play, when, if you lose once, you have to be willing to play back to back games on the way to the sacred playoff game. All team members have to believe they can come from behind to win. There were many tournaments in which tenacity fueled our progress through the loser’s bracket to face another team in the playoffs. Summer in California meant we were often playing back-to-back games in more than 100 degree heat.
I believe my experiences in sports became the foundation on which I approached work life. Working together toward common goals and being trusted to do your part can be an incredible relationship-building force. At twenty-nine years old, I’d already been playing ball for twenty years, many seasons on multiple teams, and my rotator cuff (shoulder) wore out. I played my last season with my arm taped to my torso between innings because my shoulder couldn’t take the weight of my arm. I had to underhand the ball to my outfield team member so she could throw the ball in. Off course, this extra time meant more opponents crossed home plate. I was miserable being a liability on the team instead of an asset. When I talked to the surgeon he told me he couldn’t promise I’d still be able to hold a pen to draw in exactly the same way I was used to – I was earning my income as a graphic designer at the time – and he didn’t think it wise to have surgery in the effort to continue a recreational sport.
I haven’t played ball for many years, but the experience is so engrained in me, I use it as a metaphor when I’m training. When I walk to the front of the room, I’m up at bat and I want to hit a home run for my participants. I don’t leave anything on the field, I give them all I’ve got for that time period.
Think about an analogy from your own life you can use for tenacity. The more personal the analogy, the more leverage it will create for you when you need it.
Technology for me is sometimes like that gravel driveway. I love using my tools to create something, but every time I have to go through the pain of learning a new software or platform, and deal with another technical service operation, I get easily drained and frustrated. At points I admit tears have been involved. After I take a break, tenacity puts me back in front of the computer to figure things out until I can do it.
Is there such a thing as too much tenacity? Yes, I think so. Like any other attribute, this one also requires balance.
I find it’s sometimes useful to reign in my tenacity and attempt to go with the flow to the extent I’m able to. Tenacity out of balance can create a stress overload. Sometimes my determination to get things right the first time creates so much stress it physically hurts my body; I don’t want that for you.
So don’t give up. But don’t run yourself into the ground either.
Just the right amount of tenacity is a great attitude habit. Too much and your mindset might be working against you. At least that’s how it is for me sometimes. Once I get a picture of how I want something to be, I put my all into it and make it happen. However, I would have an even more positive attitude more of the time if I were more flexible when things don’t turn out the way I pictured it.
Reminder to self: a flexible mindset instead of a fixed mindset is a core marker of positive attitude habits.
Set the goal and then release it. Go after the goal while staying open to the outcome being even bigger or in some way better than you pictured it. When things start to evolve in an unexpected way, don’t give up. Adapt and keeping working toward the goal.
What’s the difference between giving up and releasing something that isn’t working?
For me, it’s recognizing the difference between giving up on something before you’ve put your best effort into it, and knowing if you continue on the current path it will in some way become an obstacle to your long-term goals. This is personal, though, and you can come up with your own framework for making this determination.
One of the most difficult decisions I ever made in this category was the decision to discontinue the Master’s program for Organizational Communication. Once I got into the program, I was quickly disappointed to realize the program at that University wasn’t developed for people who had been working for years and were employed will going through the program. It was designed for people who had just completed their Bachelor’s Degrees and who could devote all their time to school.
I pictured sitting next to Aristotle types who would blow my mind with their ideas and ability to communicate. Instead I was surrounded by people who had very limited experience in real-life work situations. They talked as if they knew how to handle situations because they read a book or an article. Worse, some of the instructors had no work experience outside of the college environment. One did not really teach, she simply took up class time telling stories about, “My mother the nurse.”
I talked with my advisor and expressed my frustration about the courses being based mostly on regurgitation of existing information. She said, “Your problem is, you think too much.” I swear, this was said to me at a Master’s Degree level.
At my next meeting with my advisor I told her about the project I had in mind that would take the place of a thesis few would read. I wanted to create a communication skills program specifically designed to help women in shelters. My advisor denied the request saying, “We wouldn’t know how to grade that.”
Meanwhile, we had purchased a lot and were building a home. I was only in my second semester teaching classes at the college and my class was cancelled. When I wasn’t training employees, I went to the lot. I asked the guys framing our pump house (for the well) if I could help.
I loved those days, spending hours working with those guys. There was one old-timer teaching a younger man how to frame the building. I listened carefully to the questions the younger man asked, and studied on the answers from the old-timer. They were both good natured about my mistakes and gave me loads of positive reinforcement for not calling it a day until they did.
I started to dread taking time away from the building project to go to classes in the Master’s Program because the classes seemed like a complete waste of valuable time. This created an enormous amount of internal conflict for me. I’d always loved college before that experience and was attached to the idea of having a Master’s Degree.
One night over dinner I confessed, “I learn more hanging out with these guys on the job site than I do in my classes.” We talked about the end goal. I was already teaching college classes and I was already in motion to be published, so what exactly was the goal? Enhancing my credibility as a trainer, performance coach, and writer motivated my decision to get my Master’s degree.
We discussed alternative paths for meeting those goals. I could get certified in the career I was already building and maintain an intense focus on building a reputation of excellence.
We decided it was important to complete the build as quickly as possible and if we could save money by me doing some of the work while supervising the work, all the better (the general contractor on the job had been fired by his company, so I was on site trying to keep track of the building process). Also, the primary “bread winner” at that point in the relationship was relieved we wouldn’t be incurring more debt because of me going after a third degree.
My class offerings expanded and at one point I was teaching on 2-3 different campuses. My employee training programs also expanded, as did my individual coaching programs. I earned two international training certifications, as well as a performance coach certification. I eventually started a blog and published my first book, “From Average Student to Academic Rock Star”.
This is an example of having the tenacity to stay focused on your goal until complete, but being willing to modify the plan to achieve the goal if your original plan doesn’t create the anticipated value.
I’m not a psychologist, but I believe my tenacity has played a key role in consistently creating positive experiences for other people. Believing I really can do most anything I set my mind to (within reason) supports my ability to be a mostly positive person most of the time. Students and employees have confirmed the same feeling. Knowing you can count on yourself is an esteem booster.
Knowing you can stick to whatever it is beyond the point when many give up is a mindset that builds both competency and confidence – both are deposits in your attitude bank.
For readers building a training career: establishing a successful training career really tested my ability to keep going when I wasn’t sure how things would work out. The more people I helped, the more people I wanted to help. Teaming up with others who could manage the structure of the business was, for me, a necessary move. They handle all contracting and a lot of the scheduling, so I can focus on what I do well: connecting with people while sharing information and tools.
If you are a person new to a training career, you better have loads of tenacity coursing through your system, because you’re going to need it!
For readers hoping to teach college courses: in my opinion, tenacity combined with self-sufficiency is key to staying motivated. It took me too long – about five years – to figure out how things worked in the college environment and I definitely experienced frustration around not knowing what I didn’t know. If you have private sector work history, I encourage you to reach out to the Chair of your department and other available resources to increase your understanding of your contract, the union, and the politics of teaching so you can get up to speed and create realistic expectations of the teaching experience.
For readers who are employed in front line or leadership roles, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of tenacity in your career and overall employee attitude. Many of you are not going to have a supervisor or manager who will cheer you on and cheer you up. You will have to stay motivated internally when you don’t have the benefit of external markers informing your feelings of self-worth.
And just when you feel like you are on solid ground, a change is going to come. You will have to learn new things or relearn old tasks in new ways. To show you how challenging it is to “re-wire” our brains and overwrite existing behaviors, watch the YouTube video Backwards Brain Bicycle by Smarter Every Day. It is a perfect example of tenacity applied to changed thinking and behaviors. You will see knowledge doesn’t equate to immediate understanding and it sometimes takes tenacity to bridge that gap.
The chapter includes limiting beliefs, supporting beliefs, action assignments and cartoons.
The content in this book has already helped thousands with everything from making minor adjustments in their daily routines to creating major life direction shifts. It can help the people you know who are struggling. Why not give them the book and give them a lift?
Are you and your work team listening to the weekly episodes of Relatable Leader? It’s free weekly coaching to build motivation and skills. Be sure to catch the 15 Day Attitude Challenge that aligns with Catherine’s book. Subscribe on iTunes: