“Tenacity doesn’t always work, but it’s the only thing that does.” — Bill Foege
World Changing requires tenacity at the individual and at the group level. Bringing about justice, freedom, human rights, sustainability is never simple. Progress in any given arena takes time—usually years or decades.
Aesop’s fable of the famous race, the hare sprints off quickly. Soon he’s so far ahead, and over confident, that he stops to take a nap, only to wake and see his opponent, the tortoise, crossing the finish line. The tortoise, driven by delayed gratification and knowing the power of steady progress, plods along to win the race. It’s our daily slog, consistently plugging away, that makes a difference.
Jadav Payeng, the “Forest Man of India,” transformed a barren sandbar into a flourishing forest. Since 1979, he has planted trees — one by one, year after year — and nurtured them, creating the Molai Forest spanning over 1,360 acres, larger than Central Park. Now a thriving ecosystem, the forest is home to diverse wildlife including elephants, tigers, rhinos, and deer. His is the story of a tenacious individual taking action.
Tenacity, fueled by determination and a refusal to give up, becomes the driving force behind meaningful change. With each step forward, individuals and groups make strides towards a better future, overcoming obstacles and shaping a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world. The power of tenacity lies in its ability to transform dreams into reality, making the impossible achievable through unwavering dedication.
In 2008 historian and activist Howard Zinn said this on NPR’s Here and Now:
“We shouldn’t be discouraged, because we should think back—and that’s where history comes in handy—to all those times people were discouraged, but they persisted and they won. The anti-slavery movement was tiny. How in the world were they going to do away with slavery? But they persisted and persisted, and a great movement grew. We have to get used to the idea that there’s no simple one-ending solution when suddenly everything is okay. We have to get used to the fact that life is a struggle to make things better and better. You win, you lose, you win, you lose. You mustn’t give up. If you give up, you’ll always lose. And if you persist, you have a chance.”
In her talk “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Lee Duckworth says there are specific qualities and strengths crucial for success in school, work, and life, and these can be taught. The talk explores “grit,” emphasizing the importance of passion and perseverance.
From her book: “Talent—how fast we improve in skill—absolutely matters. but effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes the skill productive.” 1 hour.
“I saw something strange, it looked like a forest far in the distance. I began walking toward it. And when I reached it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had found a dense forest in the middle of a barren wasteland.”
A master of tenacity, Jadav Payeng of India has been planting trees on his island since the seventies. And now his forest is larger than Central Park. 16 min.
“No, No, No, No, No, No, No, Yes!” The power of persistence, a young artist tries to get cartoons into the New Yorker. 18 min.
NPR’s Ira Glass on storytelling. “Most everybody I know who does interesting creative work… went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be.” 2 min.
Tenacity, Duhigg and Habits
Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit explores the science behind habits and how they shape our lives, highlighting the cues, routines, and rewards that drive our behaviors. He shows how understanding and altering our habits can lead to personal and professional transformation.
It’s through repetition that we rewire our brains. Doing something over and over, no matter how small, has a huge power. In his book Duhigg says we have a limited amount of will power each day. But after we turn something we want to do into a habit, that limited will power can be used somewhere else. As your daily or weekly act becomes a habit, you have unleashed a life-changing power. Duhigg talks about why it’s so hard to develop new exercise or eating habits:
Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our heads. By the same rule, though, if we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors—if we take control of the habit loop—we can force those bad tendencies into the background…. And once someone creates a new pattern, studies have demonstrated, going for a jog or ignoring the doughnuts becomes as automatic as any other habit.