By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.
These two qualities are among my favorites. And there are differences between how these personal attributes are “applied” on the East Coast and here in the Pacific Northwest.
Tenacity is the quality that makes a person refuse to give up. It means mental or moral strength to resist opposition, danger, or hardship. Persistence is closely related to tenacity but different.
Persistence is the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people.
So, to me, the difference is that someone who has tenacity is motivated by some “higher calling,” which they take to heart. Once imbued with this character, the person will keep attempting to reach their goals even if it is hard or the person runs into opposition to reaching their goal.
Persistence is different. It is the quality that helps a person continue onward towards their goal even if, again, it is hard.
Here is an example of the difference, at least to me. Let’s say you’re attempting to climb a mountain. Tenacity is the quality that motivates you to continue onward towards the summit. As you climb, things could possibly get in your way. Weather, degree of difficulty of the climb, and so on. A tenacious person simply moves forward even when events appear to prevent them from reaching their goal. The goal becomes part of their “will,” which is intent. So a tenacious person will ignore factors that get in their way and continue onward.
Persistence is similar. However, one can move forward towards your goal without having any mental “will” to do so. I like to call persistence as another description of stubbornness. However, a persistent person may, finally, stop advancing towards their goal when it becomes evident that one is “shoveling sand against the tide.” In other words, one’s attempt to reach the goal is not necessarily part of the person’s “will.”
I have noticed differences in the manifestation of these characteristics from East Coast to the West, especially the Pacific Northwest.
Let’s start with “back east.” There a tenacious person when confronted with a difficult to reach goal will march forward with steady progression. If another person attempts to dissuade the person, the tenacious one will simply look at the other person and blurt out something along the lines of, “Why don’t you stay the hell out of my way?” Likewise, a persistent person, if interrupted during an attempt to reach a goal, might say something very close, “Hey, I’m trying to get something done, why are you interrupting me?”
In both cases, there is a basic lack of “tact” or use of social skills. It is just part of the DNA of being raised on the East Coast. Once an attempt to reach the goal starts, any interruption is greeted as an unwanted action. Some people might call this being obnoxious. Reacting to another person absent any attempt to be “nice” or “pleasant.” As one of my friends used to say, “Life is short, just get on with it.”
In the Pacific Northwest, my take on these two qualities is accompanied with quite a bit of “grace” and understanding. A person out here normally will take the time to stop, perhaps momentarily, and talk to the “interrupter.” They normally will take the time to try and understand where the other person is coming from. In other words, there is a basic “humanity” to their response to being interrupted.
Now I’m not suggesting that either approach is better than the other. In fact, these two qualities are among the things I’ve always looked for in interviewing a prospective hire. I have learned that a person with these qualities will most likely be more successful in the role of salesperson than someone who doesn’t have them.
I like to relate a personal story about these qualities in myself. I had “lost” a significant order for one of my start-ups. I was extremely upset about the loss as I was certain that other than the “boss” of the decision group, everyone else was strongly in favor of our proposal. And I had doubts that the vendor they selected could meet their delivery schedule or specifications. So I simply told the “boss” that I was disappointed in their decision, and that our door always remained open – whether for this deal, or any other as it might arise. He thanked me for my courtesy (when I was younger, I probably would have displayed anger and criticized the “boss’s” decision upon the loss), but instead, I filed this event under my “don’t ever give up” and simply waited.
Sure enough, six months later the boss called me up and said, “We’ve cancelled our order with Supplier X and now want to talk with you.” So my tenacity and persistence “won out” in the end. This customer became one of our largest ones ever.
I always like to quote Davy Crockett who always said, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”