When I was five, I was in the back seat with my cousin Eugene who was also five, and he started whining about the car ride. I told him in Korean, “Nahmja neun ch’ah m’uh ya deh,” which loosely translates to “A man must persevere.”
The Korean phrase doesn’t refer directly to perseverance but to a kind of bloody mindedness involved with smiling at someone while they rip out your fingernails or holding your pee until you are about to burst. My mother has told this story repeatedly to where I now believe it.
That I have to bring it up reflects how much I have changed since that bloody minded 5 year old. At that age, I didn’t mind so much pulling out loose teeth and even not so loose teeth just to prove a point. At seven, after we had immigrated to the US and ended up in Cleveland, Ohio, I made it a point to start rolling a snowball around the apartment complex repeatedly to make it the largest one ever seen. I made it around one and a half times, before I attracted the attention of older kids who then joined in. At that point, the snowball was taller than me. At the end of the day, it was taller than the cars, and we left it in the middle of the driveway up to the main entrance. I had no gloves on, and I couldn’t feel my fingers or ears for a week.
I’m much less hard core now, but still have that Sisyphean bloody mindedness when it comes to getting something done my way. I would hope to have the wisdom to pick and choose my battles. In golf, it’s called course management when you avoid the hazard by taking two strokes, and it is bloody mindedness that has you going for it in one, dropping balls and trying over and over until you do.