Willpower and Persistence

David Allen, via Flickr

I’m always seeing posts about how you should strive to be this or that. I wonder how much research has gone into whether it’s always possible to “become” something entirely by willpower and persistence; by an unwavering belief in yourself.

We like to believe in this country that all you need is willpower and persistence to achieve the top of anything. I have come to believe that is not the whole story. You also need ABILITY. Without ability, you cannot become a good singer. Without ability, you cannot become a successful artist or writer or dancer or cook or scientist. Without ability, willpower and persistence can only take you so far. So yes, you can become something you want to be by persistence and belief, but only to an extent, unless you have the ability to do more.

When we tell others they only need to work harder at something that does not match their ability, I think we do them a disservice. Not everyone can be brave, or smart, or talented to the levels they would like to be. Or that we might want them to be.

To use a game analogy, as long as you can honestly say you’re leveling up, then keep going. But remember that the 20 year old who wants to be a famous rapper has probably made his life about the pursuit of the dream rather than living the dream if he turns 70 and hasn’t made it. And yeah, it’s never too late to achieve a dream while you live, but you’re probably going to have to scale it back a bit because – here’s that word again – your ABILITY to achieve it has to be taken into account.
My childhood dream was to be a famous writer. At 70, I have to admit I’m not even close to being famous. I don’t even have a published novel. It’s still possible for me to complete and publish a novel, but it would have to be a hell of a novel to make me famous. In addition, my lifelong depression and anxiety issues sometimes keep me from writing at all.

So I have had to come to terms with realizing that though I am a writer, I will never be famous and that my production will never be on a par with say Neil Gaiman. But I can continue to level up as a writer. I can use my willpower and persistence to work at becoming better at writing and at writing as often as I can.
I would never tell people they can be anything they want to be just by willpower and persistence. I would tell them they CAN be anything they want to be – within limits. And that’s really not a bad thing. Not everyone can be rich and famous or insanely talented, but we can all be the best us possible.

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