“There is a difference between being convinced and being
stubborn. I’m not certain what the difference is, but I do
know that if you butt your head against a stone wall long
enough, at some point you realize the wall is stone and
that your head is flesh and blood.”
– Maya Angelou
My work often requires me to travel out of town. In the early years, it seemed almost every trip involved an episode with me, highly frustrated, driving around an unfamiliar city looking for my client’s office under the deadline of making my meeting on time.
On one particular trip to San Francisco, I printed out the directions from my hotel to the client’s huge corporate headquarters downtown and left two hours early to give myself plenty of time (30 minutes for the commute, 90 minutes at a nearby coffee shop to unwind and finish preparing for the meeting). But somewhere, somehow, I took a wrong turn – or at least thought I did. Four times I pulled over and asked for directions, and all four times I was told to stay on the street I was on and I’d supposedly “run right into it.” Instead of following that advice, I kept going back to my directions and the map from the rental car company, and stubbornly went the way I thought I should go.
After circling a four-block area for nearly two hours with no luck, I was almost in tears. I pulled over to gather my composure and called the client with the old “I’m running 15 minutes late” story.
As I hung up the phone, I looked up and there – right next to me – was the huge building that was the client’s headquarters.
I punched the steering wheel.
I was angry. Not because the building had somehow magically sprouted from the ground on a spot I would’ve sworn I’d passed 10 times before, but because my stubbornness had gotten the better of me. It rendered me deaf to those who tried to help and blinded me to the mammoth signage on the building.
How could I think that a recently-graduated- from-college-kid from the Midwest who’d never been to San Francisco knew more about navigating this bustling metropolis than four locals?
Needless to say, when I got to the meeting I wasn’t on my “A game” because I was still angry at myself. My stubbornness prevented me from showing up at the meeting feeling prepared and confident. Instead, I felt embarrassed and defeated. I didn’t win that client’s business on that trip. In fact, it took me another seven months, starting from zero, to earn them back.
I paid the price that day – and over the next seven months – for my stubbornness. But some good did come from that experience: I developed a better sense of direction and, more importantly, I learned to be more open-minded and less stubborn. Since then, I’ve zipped around Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and many more large cities – without getting lost. (Sorry, Boston, I can’t count you among those cities. Your streets are bizarrely confusing. Really confusing!)
Many people think that being stubborn or hardheaded is a positive character trait. I challenge that notion. Obstinacy makes it difficult to reason, communicate and cooperate with others. Being stubborn limits you intellectually, experientially and socially. And when two stubborn personalities clash, no one wins. Conversations between hardheaded people often escalate into angry exchanges where ugly words are spoken and common sense is thrown out the window in the name of winning the argument. A resolute person is open to others’ opinions and ideas.
A stubborn person, according to ezine author Patricia Nordman, “does not possess an opinion – it possesses him!”
Has anyone ever told you, “Gosh, you are so stubborn!”?
It’s not a compliment.
Know the difference between conviction and stubborn affliction. Although stubbornness is easy to spot in others, it’s often difficult to recognize in ourselves. According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, being stubborn means “unreasonably or perversely unyielding in character or quality.”
Having conviction, on the other hand, is possessing a strong belief towards something, whether it’s an idea, a movement or an institution. Great things have happened in this world when people turned their convictions into action. There is no need to be apologetic about being committed to something. In fact, you should be persistent, passionate and convicted about the things you truly care about. But always keep your eye on the big picture. The best way to make a difference with your idea, your movement or your project is to see how it fits with the world around you and find ways to positively share it with others.
Take action on those things you are convicted about, but don’t impose them upon others unless they are ready to receive.
Cada cabeza es un mundo. My mom used to say that all the time. Roughly translated it means, “Every head is its own planet.” In other words, we all live in our own realities based on what we’ve experienced in the past and what kind of world we’ve made for ourselves in the present.
If you look at a globe, you’ll see light-colored dotted lines representing the boundaries that separate the various countries. Think of your mind as one of the countries on a globe. You’ve subconsciously drawn boundaries around your mind that, in effect, separate you from other people. These boundaries define what you are willing to learn and accept and who you’re willing to include in your life. When you keep these boundaries as “dotted lines,” you are able to look outside of your own world – you don’tlimit your vision of the possibilities.
But if you are stubborn, you tend to erect walls along the boundary lines, closing yourself off to external ideas and influences and creating friction with others. Recognizing that each of us comes from different perspectives, realities and experiences is crucial in minimizing the friction a stubborn person can create. Even if you think you know a person, you may have no idea what past experiences have shaped his or her mentality and way of doing things.
I once had a co-worker who refused to participate in conference calls. I eventually discovered that this person had a speech impediment in childhood. Even though as an adult the impediment was no longer an issue, it still made him nervous to speak on the phone. Obviously, you’re not always going to know what causes a person to be set in his or her ways. But you can try to understand the other person’s “world” and appreciate his or her perspective. When we look beyond the annoying stubbornness and try to identify the “why,” we often find it’s not obstinacy but fear that keeps the other person from budging.