Be Persistent, but with Intelligence
This gorgeous Cooper’s Hawk was hanging out for a while outside our bedroom window this morning. They feed on smaller birds and this one had a great stake-out point overlooking the path the quail take most days.
A long time ago, back when I was in grad school, I made extra money tutoring athletes. This was at a university with a substantial and competitive sports program. On weeknights, the department sponsored tutoring for the athletes from 9pm to 11pm, and paid us $10/hour. I’d go there 2-3 nights/week and hang out, do my own work if no one came by and needed me. I was the math and science go-to specialist.
I liked doing it. Teaching math and science did a lot to clarify my own understanding – and it could be fun to go back to more basic algebra and geometry. A lot of these guys were in pretty basic math classes, and had to maintain certain GPA levels to keep their athletic scholarships. They were also generally sweet and grateful for the help. Though sometimes offended if I didn’t know who they were. More than one superstar couldn’t believe I’d never been to one of the basketball or football games.
Early in the semester, in particular, it was a pretty sweet job. I earned $20 to sit there and study for my own classes.
But, toward the end of the semester, I’d get really busy. Inevitably these guys would show up a week before the final exam, determined to do well on it, so they could get a B or C – whatever they needed to keep their scholarship.
And the first thing I’d have to do is show them the math. Not the math for the final, but for calculating their grade. Let’s say they’d had four exams for the class, including the final, each equally weighted. If they’d failed the first three exams – let’s say with a 50 out of 100, though it was often less than that – then even if they got a perfect 100 on the final, they’d come out of the class with a 62.5 average. Not a B or C in any universe, unless the professor graded on a curve. Which, in these classes, they never did.
These were never easy conversations to have – and often they didn’t believe me. Maybe it had to do with a mindset of team sports – that it was somehow always possible to rally at the end and win.
In many things, it is.
In others, well… a big effort at the end, no matter how sincere, is sometimes not enough to make up for the past.
It’s a hard lesson to learn. Especially because it feels not optimistic, to realize that past performance means we cannot possibly succeed with the current project.
But there’s a restfulness, too, to abandoning a doomed effort. With these guys, I’d have them talk to the athletic director, to set up probation and get them set up to retake the class the following semester. I’d tell them to come see me from the very beginning of the semester and I’d help them through it.
Some of them would. Some of them learned from past mistakes and did better the next time around.
That’s why I like the idea of intelligent persistence. We laud persistence – I certainly do – but sometimes that’s not all that’s needed. Intelligent persistence means knowing when to change up the approach, when to retreat to fight another day, another way.
Sometimes, that’s what you have to do.
I nearly forgot! (Okay, I *did* forget, then came back and added this.) THE FORESTS OF DRU, book 4 of the Sorcerous Moons series is available for pre-order on Amazon!!