The most important lesson for most things: balance.


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I recently got an email from a company trying to convince me to pay for their email reminder service. The first line was:

The most important lesson you can learn when starting a sales career: persistence.

To be fair, I don’t have anything like a sales career, so I don’t claim to be an expert on such things. But I do think that advice is misguided. If you focus exclusively on persistence, you run the risk of being overbearing. I imagine there are people who would be more likely to buy something if that salesperson just backed off!

Instead of focusing on persistence, I believe the better advice is to always consider striking a balance. In this case, it’s a matter of finding a balance between, on the one hand:


and on the other hand:


This is a fairer and likely to be more effective to help you get what you want, and make other people around you happy.

Persistence – or patience – to the extreme



You can’t enter every interaction with the mindset that you will persist at all costs. What about checking in on a professor who’s agreed to write you a letter of recommendation: if you send follow-up emails day after day asking when it’s going to be done, the professor might get so annoyed that she’ll change her mind and not write the letter. So much for persistence! All that did was pester her.



But by contrast, you can’t only be patient and trusting. When arguing with Time Warner Cable to lower your ridiculously expensive monthly bill, keep pushing! Ask to speak to a supervisor, then another supervisor if necessary until your expectations are met. There are indeed times when persisting is necessary.

It really comes down to striking a balance between persistence and patience. You figure out how much to “lean” in one way or the other in different situations by considering the context.

Balance in all things

Any time someone uses the phrase “the most important lesson is,” it should be following with “a balance between…” Just about all advice—even good advice—can be misinterpreted or misapplied and taken to the extreme. Instead of thinking, “In my life, I always need to x” I believe more people will be helped by thinking, “In my life, I need to find the balance between x and y.” There’s a lot of space in between, and that’s where people end up the most successful and satisfied.

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For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.