The Temptation of Giving Up

A friend of mine set out to make croissants for the first time. For those of you unfamiliar with the art of French baking, these pastries require several stages of preparation over 2-3 days. On the second day of his first attempt, when the batter got too thin and sticky, my friend got frustrated and threw the dough into a bread pan instead of finishing the croissant-making process. I protested that he was giving up too soon, but to no avail. He ended up with some cross between biscuits and croissants, and a learning experience for the next attempt.

The Art of Perseverance – A Lesson from Mouse Tales

My tendency is not to give up on almost anything until absolutely all options have been exhausted. Part of that philosophy was hammered into me as a child through multiple readings of the book Mouse Tales, by Arnold Lobel. I did not realize it at the time, but I think I learned some of my most important life lessons from that book.

In one story, The Journey, a mouse ventures out in his car on a road trip to his mother’s house. After driving for some time, he encounters a slight problem: The car, sadly, falls apart. But, thankfully, just at the right moment, there is someone selling roller skates at the side of the road. The mouse purchases a pair and rolls and rolls until, guess what? The wheels fall off of the roller skates. As luck would have it, there is a person selling boots at the side of the road! The mouse wears through the soles of the boots, and then through a pair of sneakers, and then, would you believe, though a pair of feet. When his feet get too tired to walk, amazingly enough, there is a person by the side of the road selling feet! The mouse makes it to his mother’s house wearing his brand new pair of feet.

Excuses, Excuses

Many of us in the mouse’s situation would never have made it to our mother’s house with all these breakdowns. Do any of these laments sound familiar?

  • My car broke down! Now I have to take it to the shop. Sorry mom.
  • I tried! I even tried getting there on roller skates! But everything just keeps falling apart.
  • It wasn’t meant to be.
  • My hands are tied.
  • Bad things are always happening to me.
  • No one is there to help me. I have to do everything alone!
  • I can’t let my mother know that my car is so old and broken down.
  • I don’t have time for this.

These excuses keep us from being creative, from keeping our eye on the prize, and from noticing that person who shows up just at the right time to help us. They keep us from prioritizing our relationships. And they have us tossing in the towel long before the game is truly over.

The Magic Formula for Achieving Any Goal

Setting aside all judgment about how important our mother would feel if we gave up on our journey, what this Mouse Tale has to teach us is something about persistence and perseverance. This mouse was not about to give up no matter what. He understood that his commitment to his goal was beyond any limitation on how he would achieve it. And at every juncture where he could have thrown up his paws and said “I can’t” or “It’s impossible” or “It’s too hard,” he found an alternative and went with it.

My friend Seth and I, some time ago, identified a surefire and quite simple way to reliably achieve any goal: “Don’t give up until you achieve it.” You will either achieve that goal or you will die trying. Whether it’s making croissants, getting a new job, or making a visit to mom, the rule always applies.

That’s the rule the mouse followed. He reached his goal, he could feel proud of himself, and his mother was very very happy.

[By the way, my croissant-making friend did try again. Things did not go perfectly the second time either, but he pressed on until actual croissants, albeit dense ones, came out of the oven. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.]


    • Love the Mouse Tales! Although I haven’t read it.
      If you are committed to your goal, you will always search for ways to overcome any obstacle that gets in the way of achieving that goal.

      – Denholm

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