Determination: friend or foe?

I love the show Shark Tank. Budding entrepreneurs pitch their business—and offer a stake in their company—to the cast of multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons (the sharks) in exchange for an investment. It’s entertaining, it’s educational, and it’s helped to launch hundreds of successful businesses. But every now and then, an entrepreneur will present a business that’s just not working. And that’s when the show gets a little sad.

Lots of ideas don’t work when turned into a business, and there’s no shame in trying and failing. But some of those business owners have invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into their idea. Some have taken out second mortgages on their homes. Some have borrowed money from friends or family. They’re out of options, time, and money. Not surprisingly, the sharks almost always pass on these pitches and advise that it’s time to give up on this particular idea.

And almost every time, the next clip shown is of the dejected entrepreneur vowing to never give up.

Dogged determination is a necessary trait to be successful in just about anything. But when that sheer relentlessness prevents someone from facing facts, when it drives them to give up more money, time, or energy than they can afford, when it prevents them from redirecting to something potentially more successful and personally fulfilling, determination becomes a foe rather than a friend.

I often see determination’s transition from friend to foe during the college admissions process. The student whose SAT score has stalled after three tries, and who wants to do yet another round of expensive test prep. The student who refuses to look at more realistic schools and instead keeps searching for a way to get into a highly selective college. The student who won’t accept a college’s denial, who wages an appeal campaign and won’t even consider any of the available college options on the table. Their determination is admirable. And it will help them achieve a lot of things in the future. But in these scenarios, that determination is holding them back from achieving many other more realistic—and likely just as rewarding—goals.

It’s far better to have determination than not to. And there’s no formula to identify when it’s time to move from determination to acquiescence. But you can start by simply facing facts. What do the facts tell you? What do people who know you and love you advise? What does your counselor think you should do?

And most importantly, if you kept pursuing this goal and never achieved it, would you be proud of yourself for trying so hard? Or would you regret what you gave up to stay so determined?

Determination is a great friend. But if it stops acting in your best interest, that friend might be turning into a foe.