Be Stupid Like Birds: Be Persistent
Every spring, in a much anticipated migration, the birds return. A frenzy erupts among the inhabitants, and a dispute. Are they beautiful? Are they a nuisance? Residents point and debate. People gather to take pictures and share them with the world.
No, these are not swallows to Capistrano, but mourning doves to my porch. And the “people” are just me and my wife.
The debate is simple: Are the mourning doves a nuisance, or an inspiration? Well, the lines are clearly divided. There is some substantial evidence for the nuisance side.
It starts with their efforts to build a nest on the corner brick support for the wood frame porch roof. Their early work always looks like the total mess you see in the first picture, with twigs strewn across our porch furniture and porch floor.
We sweep it away each day, sometimes multiple times. The birds seem oblivious to all the material they’ve dropped. We’ve never seen them pick it up off the chair or porch and try any of these pieces again. No doubt these Very Smart Birds®️ have used the materials once and determined that they are defective in some inscrutable way. So they fly off to choose different, presumably superior twigs.
It doesn’t look like a nest at all.
After a couple of days though, you can start to see the formation of an idea.
Which, well, okay you can’t quite SEE it.
But the idea is, they aren’t going to quit. And there will be a nest in this location … eventually. Even if after working through a third day, there is no nest, or even pieces of bark or straw peeking out over the brick ledge.
So what you can see, if you sit still and watch what is happening, is the action toward creation of a nest, but what you can’t see yet is an actual nest. That’s because it has only been three days.
And whether you are trying to earn a living or build a nest, success requires persistence. These birds understand persistence. They will just keep at it.
Persistence is a superpower
We love our superhero movies. In 2009, Disney bought the rights to the Marvel Universe for $4B. Just the SpiderMan portion of the franchise alone was recently valued at over $6.5B.
People flock to theaters, back when the birds weren’t the only ones flocking, when superheroes or supervillains are on the screen.
And while we may wish for the ability to suit up in our own armored super-computer, develop lightning-fast reflexes, or have the coolest gadgets in the world on our toolbelt, the reality is, this is escape fantasy. Those things are not available to us.
So in order to accomplish remarkable things, we need to develop our own skill set.
Our superpower is one we can learn from the mourning doves. Or, as my wife calls them, “the stupid birds.” It is persistence.
You see, every branch they put on the ledge for a couple of days gets blown down, or knocked down by one of them. But they keep trying.
This skill, this superpower is available to us. We can learn new things, grow new connections in our brains, and do hard things.
In his book The Creator Mindset, Nir Bashan points out that children never stop trying new things. When they see an instrument, they play it. When they see blocks, they build. When they fall, they get back up.
That persistence, and not any inherent expertise, is what helps children gain experience.
We would never look at a child tapping out notes on a piano and determine they could never become a pianist. In fact, we are frequently moved to note quite the opposite. “A future pianist!” we coo.
That’s right. We were ALL born with this superpower. And we should emulate that same approach as adults. Isn’t the 5 years ahead of us just as productive and fruitful and full of potential as the five years in front of the toddler?
And while our brains might not be as elastic as theirs, and a few of our ways may feel permanently set, what might happen if we offered ourselves the same prognosis that we offer the child? What if we played with the blocks in front of us? What if we invested in learning a new skill and quit demeaning ourselves? What if we claimed ourselves to be future poets, or future artists, or future musicians?
What if, after two weeks of strewing building materials … the stupid birds have, once again, and against all odds, not only cobbled together a nest, but they’ve hatched a couple of eggs too.
Sure, this is an act of instinct.
But it is just as much a result of quiet, unending persistence. It’s the kind of effort against the odds that compels some people to call it “stupid.”
But I don’t think it is stupid at all. I think persistence is a superpower. And, better yet, it is an instinctual skill available to all of us.
What are you trying to persist at? Who are you trying to persist for? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!
Originally published at https://thebestwordsllc.com on April 10, 2021.