Tenacious (adj): persistent, determined, not easily able to give up or let go of an object, idea, or principle.
Tenacity is a quality I have been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks. I’ve had other teachers confide their fears in me, telling me they’re worried that they cannot change or adapt because they’ve taught the same way for twenty years. I’ve had people tell me they could not do what I have done (I believe it’s in reference to moving to another country on my own), though I find this information to be strange – these are words that simply do not compute in my mind as making sense. Surely this is not such a big deal? I find myself wanting to explain to people (usually with a shrug) that it’s nothing major. I made a decision and I stuck with it.
I have been called stubborn, obstinate, and pig-headed. It takes a lot for me to give something up. Even though there are lots of “careers” I’ve left, it takes a lot of anguish before I reach the point of giving up, of calling it quits, of moving on. I hate “failing” at something (which can mean I don’t try) and I hate leaving things unfinished (which sometimes mean I don’t start). Some days I am as stubborn as an Aries can be. I dig my heels in and batter, batter, batter until my stubbornness makes way for my set ideas or desires. I often have opinions backed with a force of sheer obstinance that simply cannot be suppressed, controlled, or otherwise harnessed for anything other than the purpose for which it is intended. Not only am I stubborn, I can be darn fussy about it too. I like things done a certain way. I know what I can and cannot tolerate. I know what I think and feel, and I’m not often open to adapting those ideas or principles.
Tenacity is a quality I admire. Despite having similar definitions as stubborn and obstinate, being tenacious feels, to me, like a quality that embraces stubborn obstinance and takes it to a level of ardent belief. It’s not just about digging your heels in and beating your ideas into everyone else but about holding onto your ideas so strongly that they are so much a part of you that to let go would be to lose that part of who you are.
I have, for a long time, confused being a control freak with being tenacious. Controlling every minute detail around me must surely be a way of exerting absolute determination over my existence, right? I have been more open to change since I travelled in 2010 but now I find that here, in Singapore, I’m even less in control than I ever have been before. Take the simple detail of the bus timetable: there isn’t one. The buses come every 8-19 minutes (yes, we’re into accuracy over here) and that’s about all the information you’ll get. Some bus stops will tell you when the next bus is due to arrive, but most really do rely on pot-luck – including the two bus stops where I get the bus to and from work. I just show up and hope I don’t have to wait too long for the next bus to appear. If there is a bus timetable, I’m yet to find it. And I wonder, now, if I’d actually want it. You see, I’ve come to a bit of a realisation – one that I’ve been pondering for a while. Controlling things has several strange consequences:
- you are less flexible
- you are less able to cope with (and enjoy) change
- you develop a ravenous desire for perfectionism in everything
- you are more likely to decline offers of spontaneity
- you feel lost and empty all the time because you spend all your time digging your heels in – it’s exhausting
I still consider myself stubborn, obstinate, tenacious … It’s my birthright, so let’s not try to change the intentions of the Universe. But now I like to think that I am stubborn when I need to be. I have developed a flexibility that sometimes surprises me. Who is this person that isn’t having a meltdown because no bus has appeared in the past twelve minutes? To those who have expressed concern for their need to adapt, I tell them to shrug off the things you cannot control and to give room for adaptation to the things you can. And for those who tell me they couldn’t do what I have done, I tell them to focus on the things you want and work out a way to get them without charging through fences and battering down the people in your way.
I’m a lot more flexible and where I used to espouse the glories of change, now I actually believe in it. I’m accepting my imperfections – my stubborn ways and my lazy approach to ironing, for starters – and this has led to acceptance of imperfection as a perfectionism in its own right. I am more spontaneous, less likely to stick to a plan (though I remain an avid list-maker), and I feel much, much more whole. I am more open to ideas, methods, and opinions of others – and I have learnt much more from this than anything else. Still, I have a few fences to mend and relationships to amend; I’m not perfect.