“People can attach themselves to something – an idea, another person, a desire – with an impossibly strong grip, and in the case of restless ghosts, a grip stronger than death. Will is a powerful thing. Will – it’s supposed to be a good treat, a more determined and persistent version of determination and persistence. But will and obsession – they sit right next to each other. They pretend to be strangers and all the while meet secretly at midnight.” (Deb Caletti, Stay)

Will, or persistence, has marked the characters of hundreds of people who have gone on to be truly successful – many of whom persisted in spite of disabilities and obstacles:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven (composer, pianist) became deaf at the age of 30 and composed most of his beloved works after he lost his hearing.
  • Helen Keller (author) was deaf and blind from the age of 19 months. She wrote 12 books, various articles and was the first blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree.
  • Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder (musicians), both of whom are blind, have achieved much in their respective genres of music.
  • James Earl Jones (actor), known for his booming resonant voice, was once a stutterer.
  • Marlee Matlin (academy award-winning actress) is deaf.
  • Itzhak Perlman (virtuoso concert violinist) has legs paralyzed from polio.
  • Terry Fox (runner) was an amputee from cancer.

‘Persistence’ and ‘will’ are semantically related. They convey the meaning of commitment, dedication to a purpose, determination, backbone, guts, and drive. Being resolute about achieving one’s goals is a good characteristic, one that drives a person towards applying energy to activities that lead towards realising success. Stamina is necessary, particularly if the success journey proves to be a long one. As Calvin Coolidge notes: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not – nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not – unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not – the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Refusing to give up is foundational to success.

Persistence is positive when the goal is righteous, however, when one’s will is self-serving, it easily translates into obsessive behaviours that lead to manipulation, arrogance, a false sense of importance and a blunting of conscience. Obsession is not healthy:

  1. For ourselves – it sucks the joy out of our lives. We tend to forget that we do what we do on account of our passion, but the activity doesn’t define us. Who we are far outstrips what we do.
  2. For others – people start feeling as if they are just disposable pawns on a chess board as an obsessive person rides over them to achieve goals and find success. This is particularly true within the workplace where obsessive managers have unrealistic expectations, demand results without supplying adequate resources or training, put others down, and use manipulative techniques to get their way. The resulting low trust causes resistance and a toxic environment.

Our respective wills need to be kept in check. When a strong will crosses the short bridge to obsession, it results in dysfunctional relationships, unrealistic self-images, a greed that surpasses rational thinking, unwise decision-making, and super-inflated egos. The subsequent arrogance is alienating – arrogant and self-important people find themselves isolated.

Don’t allow your will to court obsession secretly at midnight. Check the motives that underpin your passion and make sure that they are not self-serving.

2 comments on “Cultivate will, not obsession

  1. Lynn Page on

    Thank you, Jonathan. What interesting, stretching and inspiring posts. Thank you so much. (We have met briefly at a FTG conference).

    • Jonathan Mills on

      Thanks so much Lynn. Yes, I remember clearly meeting you at the FTG conference – thanks for your interest in my posts.


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