"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries," suggests author James Michener in his best seller "Chesapeake." As children we used a similar adage to spur ourselves on: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again."
But what about the sixth, or seventh, or eighth tries? When do we decide we've tried, and tried, and finally tried enough? How do we reach the decision that it's time to walk away, to throw in the towel?
An American credo is "persistent hard work and success." What do we do, though, with persistent hard work and just as persistent failure?
Whether it's learning a new skill, a job, a marriage, or our "great ambition," there comes a time in each of our lives when we've got to question the sanity of continuing to try. In the midst of such re-evaluating, however, we often are at a loss as to exactly how to make such a decision.
There are three questions I suggest we ask ourselves when we are faced with a "try, try again" situation.
First, we want to look at what values are involved in our decision. For example, take a woman who both works full time and is wife and mother who feels chronically stressed, tired and unable to do well on the job or at home. She decides she may not be able to do everything she has been trying to do.
As she explores the values involved in her dilemma, she becomes aware of four that are particularly important. She values her career, especially because she had put it aside for a number of years to start a family. She also appreciates the money she earns; it allows her and her family to buy many of the things that make their lives more enjoyable.
On the other hand, she also values her roles as wife, mother and homemaker. She sometimes finds herself looking longingly back on the time when she didn't work outside the home. She had time to spend with her husband and children, and to better manage the household. She also recognizes she has shortchanged another value: her desire to pursue some of her other interests and friendships.
Obviously, these values conflict. And try, try, again just won't work. Part of our friend's problem has been her repeated attempt to completely invest herself in all of these areas at the same time. No wonder she feels overwhelmed.
Our second question, then, has to do with which values are most important at this particular time. In our example, let's say the woman sits down with her husband (which also expresses her valuing of her marriage) and takes a long hard look at the situation.
Though they probably could get by on his salary alone, she decides that the loss of her income would mean more sacrifices for her and her family than she wants to make. She chooses, then, that particular value as being the more important of the one's she's identified.
Now that doesn't mean she is just going to abandon any conflicting values. She is not willing to give up doing a good job as wife or mother. Nor is she going to forget about time for herself. Our third question, then, is: How can we minimize and live with the costs of our decision?
In our example, our friend discusses her dilemma with her family. She is not willing to just try again. Something does have to change if she is going to continue working.
As the family struggles with the various values expressed (and here the values of other family members come into play), they eventually work out a new contract for sharing household chores. This agreement takes enough of the pressure off the woman that she starts to feel good about balancing her needs and wants with those of her family.
We could play out our story with a number of different outcomes. It is just as possible that this woman may have decided to leave her job. Or perhaps her husband might have left his job to become a househusband. She even may have decided to leave her family.
What is important is that we recognize that there does come a time when "enough is enough." Giving it one more try won't work. Something has to give, whether it means tinkering with a schedule, abandoning a dream, or just giving up.
I deliberately chose an example in which a person was able to live out a number of values by making some changes in the way she went about things. There was no dramatic failure or walking away. Yet we need to recognize that this is not always the case.
Sometimes it seems like we have to make much harder choices -- to end a marriage, abandon a career, etc. Though such decisions not to try again are excruciatingly painful, they must be faced. We need to ask ourselves the questions I've suggested, discuss our thoughts and feelings with people we trust, and then do the best we can.