A man kept his two large, beloved dogs in the backyard where they had plenty of room to run, play, and lounge about. One morning a squatty little bulldog came down the street, saw the expansive green grass on the other side of the enclosure, and with great effort shoved himself beneath the fence and into the yard.
The owner’s first thought was to intervene. He didn’t want the little bulldog to get mauled by his two much larger pets. But he stopped himself, thinking, “Maybe this will teach this little dog a lesson.” Sure enough, his two dogs jumped on their uninvited guest and summarily whipped him from pillar to post. Having had enough, the bulldog squeezed out the hole he entered, and scurried whimperingly away.
The next morning, the bulldog returned. Back under the fence he came, again he took his lumps, and again retreated in tears. This went on for weeks. Every morning the bulldog would squeeze his way in, take a beating, and leave crying. In the end, however, the two larger dogs who would win every fight, gave up.
They would hear the sawed-off, little bulldog coming down the street, snorting, huffing, and puffing as they do. And before he ever squeezed his way under the fence, they would start whining, begging to be let in the house. This would leave the bulldog to roll in the grass, chew on borrowed toys, and to have this run of the place.
There is an invaluable, obvious lesson in this parable: Perseverance pays off. Even when facing superior odds, when facing situations that are impossible to overcome, persistence still might win in the end. There’s a word for such determination, an actual English word found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “Sticktoitiveness.”
It means “dogged perseverance; resolute tenacity; resilience.” Sticktoitiveness is the stuff that separates those who ultimately prevail from those who quickly surrender or who never even try. It enables a person to face adversity, and overcome; to transform victimization to victory; and to win by never wearing down, by the sheer force of coming back day after day.
Sticktoitiveness is a characteristic of faith; it might even be a synonym. A person of faith keeps believing, keeps working, keeps showing up day after day. He or she keeps teaching the unteachable, correcting injustices, fighting for what is merciful and fair, bearing the agony of it all. And for what reason?
Because he or she has the long view in focus, knowing that “faith might not become sight” for a long, long time and not without some pain and suffering. And this person knows that the grinding, pulverizing trials of being human, provide us all with a choice: To quit or to persist.
Quitting is the easier, expected outcome while persisting – what David Brooks calls “the overwhelming responsibility to respond well” – is an act of defiant faith. Sticktoitiveness will do more than make you a winner. It will transform you into a person of genuine faith.