Stickability. It's a sticky subject indeed. Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of perseverance in the face of outrageous failure, or to take to your heels and by quitting end them?
I'm not a good learner. I like to go straight from beginner to great, and miss out the painful "improver" section in-between. I'm happy to admit this is not a good learning style, and is wildly unrealistic. Even if I wasn't self-aware enough to see this in myself, its been drummed into me through watching my older son,who unfortunately inherited this trait, and expected to be able to just climb on a bike and ride away...
This means I sometimes feel like I haven't got much "stickability". Katherine Tyrrell in her excellent Making a Mark blog* has some great definitions of people who have this strength of character: they finish things they start; they continue with the task despite failures or lack of positive results; they resist being discouraged when they don't get instant results, being prepared to suffer a lot of failures before they achieve success.
The opposite of this, as Katherine points out, is "quitter's disease" - like people who give up painting if they can't paint like a master at the end of a two week holiday course.
I don't really like to think of myself as a quitter. And yet I know its there, lurking, tempting me. Just give up, you'll never make it, its not worth it, you'll never be any good, don't waste your time...
There are certain things in my life that I'm pleased I stuck with, right through to the end.
All those hours of piano practice, for example, are something I've never regretted, even though it wasn't that cool a way to spend your time as a teenager. Finishing my post-grad qualification alongside a full-time job sometimes felt like a long, hard slog, but I made it. Learning to drive and passing my test involved a lot of patience, courage, lessons and failures before I finally made it, but I'm so glad that I got there.
I wouldn't want to class the relationships in my life as hard work, but even so I like to think the fact that I've been with the same man for 20 years suggests that I don't bail out at the slightest wrinkle in the fabric of happiness.
So, I began to ask myself, what makes the difference?
Sometimes its having a fixed end point. Doing my post-grad course, for example, was liveable with because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew that if I kept going then when the three years were done I could relax and enjoy life a bit more, tick it off my list, and never have to go through that again.
Sometimes its about seeing some progress as you go along, some encouragement that although the going is tough, you will get there. That's hard when it feels as if its one step forward, two steps back. I try to get round this by thinking of my progress as a spiral rather than a straight-line: sometimes it feels like I'm just going round in circles and keep coming back to the same point, but actually each time I'm just a little bit higher up, a little bit further along my journey.
Then there is the enjoyment factor. It is possible (I've been surprised to discover) to enjoy things even if you're not great at them. I love painting, but I'm not a great artist. Sometimes it goes well and I'm thrilled with the results; sometimes it doesn't go to plan and ends up being a bit disappointing, compared to the picture in my head! But for me the therapeutic benefits of having a brush in hand outweighs any frustration I may feel.
Mostly, my "stickability" level comes down to how much it means to me. If I really, really, want the end result - whether its a certificate, a new skill, or a happy marriage - then I'm happy to do whatever I need to.
There's a few things at the moment I'm trying to decide whether to stick with or not, so I'm planning to run them through this test to see where I should go next.
I don't ever want to be a quitter, but I also believe life is too short and too full of opportunities to spend time on things that don't mean enough to me, just for the sake of my pride.
It's a hard balance: stay too long and risk wasting time, money, and emotion on a battle I'm never going to win; or bail out too soon and risk missing out on the valuable pearl I might find if I just open one more gritty shell...
*makingamark.blogspot.com - see The 'stickability' factor, 3 Sept 2006