I believe that just about every personality trait is inherently neutral. Most traits serve us well up to a point. Almost any aspect of our personalities can get us in trouble if taken too far. For instance, industrious can lead to getting a lot done and feeding a family. However, it can also lead to neglecting the family being fed. Kindness can change a life for the better. It can also be trampled on and taken advantage of.
One of my distinguishing personality traits is stubbornness. When the proverbial chips are down, I double down. My wife likes to correct me by saying “You’re just determined, dear”. I appreciate her attempts to smoothen my edges but I kind of like the sound of “stubborn”.
I’ve needed my stubbornness several times in my life. Stubbornness comes in handy when one is paralyzed by a major stroke and is not expected to recover. I had to make that choice 12 years ago after I had my first major stroke. Would I try to recover as best as I could or would I not? Two years ago I had to make that choice again when I had another, unrelated major stroke. It may seem like an easy choice to someone who has never experienced a major hardship but the overwhelming sense of loss doesn’t make that choice as easy as it looks and, in some cases, robs folks of even retaining the cognitive or emotional ability to make that choice.
Such major life events make that choice starkly visible but we really make those choices daily. Stubbornness helps, at least when one has the capability of exercising such ability to be headstrong. As with any personality trait, one needs to only honor it to the extent it’s helpful and most of us run a bit too far on our default personalities. I know I’ve had to temper my stubbornness with a certain amount of acceptance too. However, I think that is just part of living and learning as we go through life.
One of the things that has surprised me as I’ve grown older is how much hardship and heartache seem to be the inevitable lot in human life. When I’ve gotten together with high school friends, whose hopes and dreams seemed limitless decades ago, the stories have typically revolved more around disappointment, tragedy and unmet expectations. Yet, rarely has that led to the sort of melancholy one would expect if we had seen our future trajectory at high school graduation. Instead, I find a certain blend of compassion, resilience and acceptance among my age peers. There is no surrender. It’s more like we’ve lost a lot of battles in life but eventually decided that we didn’t need to be defeated because the wars we were fighting weren’t real or weren’t worthwhile in the first place.
The older I get, the more I realize how little control I have over things. However, that’s not a bad thing. Rather, it frees me. Doing the “best I can” is easier if I have less I can do to start with. Then, I realize I have only a limited amount of choices over any given thing and I can only make one choice at a time. Therefore, it’s alright to get knocked down. I really have only one choice at that point–I can get up or not get up. That’s where being stubborn helps. I choose to get up. Then I have one choice. I can stand still or try to move ahead. I choose to move ahead as best as I can.