Persistance is not futile


I was playing Minecraft with my daughters the other day. What is Minecraft? Minecraft is a sandbox game where you can roam, explore, and build. It is very creative and I really like it (this could be the final proof that I never grew up). As with most computer games there are evil bad guys to overcome, but unlike most computer games you have the option to turn them off by declaring your world ‘peaceful’. This removes most oppostion and you can play without most dangers.

I say ‘most’ because a couple remain. Consequently when my eldest fell into a pool of lava and died, it was understandable that she was upset. Because she fell in carrying most of the materials her character had gathered, she lost all of that as well. Fortunately, Minecraft is extremely kind to the victims of misfortune and allows you to ‘respawn’ infinitely. So she could be re-introduced into the world and continue playing – minus the items she had lost in the lava (if she hadn’t fallen in lava she would have also been able to go and pick up all the items again as they drop when a player is killed – when falling in lava, they are disintegrated).

So I said to my daughter, “Just respawn and you can keep playing.”

But she continued to cry and became inconsolable. No matter what I did, she focussed on what she had lost, how upset she was, and acted like it was the end of the game.

But it wasn’t. And I found it hard to understand.

To me, 35 years her senior, it was obvious. If you stumble along the way, just shake it off and keep going. She could rematerialise, both myself and her sister were in the game and we could help her gather more materials and get back to having a stash of stuff to play with. I could understand why she was initially upset, but not why she wouldn’t get back at it and give it another go. She ended up going to bed crying, as her mood dissolved and her conduct with it.

There is an unspoken rule in this house – I don’t let my kids go to sleep crying (or leave them anywhere crying, though they don’t know that one :D), so I sat down with her at bedtime and had a little talk about persistence.

That talk got me thinking of just how much being stubborn and determined can help in life. How many times we step into lava and have to pick ourselves up and keep going. And, to narrow this down to a more relevant topic for this blog, how persistence can further your art. Try, try, try, swear, kick the table, try again, screw it up and throw it out the window, swear some more, try, try and just keep on on bloody trying.

Determined, pen on fineliner paper

None of us were born with a pencil and Leonardo da Vinci’s art education – not even Leonardo himself. Yet, many of us, including me, oggle at the masters’ artworks and grumble about how we can never be that good. Do we ever see the blood, sweat and tears behind those masterpieces? Do we know what each of those great artists had to overcome to get where their careers finally took them? In many cases, the only factors separating success and failure is the determination to learn from failure and pick everything up and try again.

Sometimes, like my daughter, we get lost by focussing on the mistakes and the stumbles. We stagger in response to disappointment, fear, loss, shame, anger and even microburst hissy fits (you should have seen the argument I got into with Microsoft Word one time, my computer was lucky to survive). There is nothing wrong with acknowledging a failure. We need to work through our problems, it keeps us emotionally healthy, but don’t let them rule you. Don’t let negativity, either yours or someone else’s, prevent you from doing what you want to do.

I also hear the phrase ‘I can’t draw’ an awful lot, which basically equates to ‘I’m really not that interested enough to practise and learn how’ (it is the same when I say I’m sports challenged). It is the sound of a door shutting. That person has decided they are not going to persist in that direction. And there is nothing wrong with that, but if you do truly want to learn to do something, you shouldn’t let anything hold you back.

After my daughter went to bed, I went all softy and played her character for a while, gathering resources, getting her back into the game. I kept thinking that I wasn’t really doing her any favours, as she needs to learn to persist to get what she wants. But it should also be noted that if you do focus on your goal and keep striving in the direction you want to go, people will notice, and in many cases, help you out. ‘If you build it, they will come’ – Field of Dreams was a good movie – ignoring the obvious impact of good marketing and advertising, I’ve found that is exactly what happens. People know you are into something, or have a particular skill in an area, and they will start offering a helping hand. Aren’t friends and family the first people to start buying your artwork? It becomes a combination of what you know, who you know and what they think you know.

Persistence has momentum, people can get caught up in it and help you in the direction you so clearly want to go. I’m proof. I wouldn’t be where I am without my stubborn streak or the helping hands of others (you know who you are, most of you are reading this blog entry).

One advantage of persistence in art is all the artwork that is created along the way. We may consider some of them failures, but I have to say that I am ever surprised at what pieces of my art people are interested in. I might hate it, but there seems to be someone out there who will like it, often for reasons I can’t understand. But then it is not up to me, art is in the eye of the beholder.

So, in summary, take the adage ‘try, try and try again’ to heart. Persist, get in there, focus, do what you want to do. And if it doesn’t work, work around it, take another aim, and make fire.

Of course, my eldest is back in the Minecraft game, happy as she can be – we are currently mining an underwater monument for its stash of gold. She still has a lot to learn, don’t we all (and she is only seven), but I am hoping to instill a little more of my stubborn streak, activate some of those genes I left lying around, and get her revved up to persue what she wants to do, and not let the lava burn away her chances.

After all if we want it, we have to make it happen.

Best wishes,