Perseverance vs Stubbornness

Whether we’re talking about leadership, career development, or education a word that I’ve noticed keeps coming up is “perseverance”.

Modern Fire Tactics romduck

It’s a great word

However, I’ve always been troubled by the thin line that separates perseverance from flat out stubbornness. I’ve heard many great teachers repeat “Never give up” quotes to the effect of “Great works are performed not by strength, but by perserverence”, “Quitters never win and winners never quit” and “Men fail much more often from want of perseverance than from want of talent.” And yet

many times I have found myself advising colleagues that I see mentally or emotionally banging their heads against the wall to “quit” or as I would prefer to phrase it, “focus your energy elsewhere”.


So when should you commit to working to break through a barrier and when should you simply leave it to find a new challenge?


Recently I’ve begun to think of it like this: perseverance is continuing to work for change despite failures while stubbornness is refusing to change or recognize failures. Generally, perseverance reflects a choice where stubbornness reflects a reflex. Some time after coming to this conclusion I was fortunate enough to find this quote that sums it up much more elegantly.


The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.

Henry Ward Beecher


Consider a situation in which you feel you have not been making progress. Ask yourself, Do I recognize and accept the failures involved? Is the goal still worth achieving? Am I remembering that to continue is still a choice and that it may be more effective to persevere, but in a different way? Or am I pushing back or holding strong because of a reflex, a gut reaction like anger? If so, maybe I’m just being stubborn and need to focus my energy elsewhere.

Can you see it happening?

It is very difficult to consider “in the moment” when the situation is right in front of you. Yet taking a moment to look back you may see clear as day that you thought you were persevering when, in fact, you were just being stubborn.


I find this helpful in making decisions going forward for myself, my team, and my family. I’ll try and keep it in mind as I mentor future leaders in emergency services. Of course there are many ways to think of it, and this is but one, but I find it helpful. I hope you find it helpful too, but what helps you differentiate between perseverance and grit and stubbornness and pig headedness?

About romduck

Rom Duckworth is a dedicated emergency responder and award-winning educator with more than twenty five years of experience working in career and volunteer fire departments, public and private emergency services and hospital based healthcare systems. Currently a career Fire Captain / Paramedic and EMS Coordinator Rom is a frequent speaker at national conferences and a regular contributor to research, magazines, and textbooks on topics of field operations, leadership, and education in emergency services. Contact Rom via