There are some people who seem to be impervious to discouragement. They make good salesmen, since they do not allow a long string of failures to affect their momentum. This kind of person is often viewed by others with a combination of admiration and unease. We might admire their ability to resist discouragement, but simultaneously feel unease at the prospect of having to endure their latest sales-pitch. Perhaps the highest rating would go to a salesman who both resists discouragement, but, at the same time, knows how to keep friendships.
Unemployment is a state of life that is particularly susceptible to discouragement. There is an old saying that goes: “When you don’t have a job, then your job is to find a job.” Lets consider the example of a person who is looking for a job, but continues to receive rejections. Eventually, following the usual human psychology, discouragement sets in. For a person with the impervious-to-discouragement mentality of a successful salesman, there will be no loss in effort. But, for the “regular” person, there is going to be a point at which the string of rejections will result in a drop in effort.
In one very clear sense, decreasing one’s efforts is a very rational response to a string of rejections or failures. For example, animals usually spend their days foraging for food. If their current foraging area contains an easy and sufficient supply of food, they will likely find no reason to migrate. (In this example, lets assume that there are no extra factors at work, like predators or other environmental problems.) But, if the foraging area does not contain a suitable food supply, then the animal will, eventually, make the completely rational decision to search outside of their original range.
In this case, the experience of going hungry impels the animal to expand their search beyond the original zone. Isn’t this a case of rationally responding to discouragement? If we could speak to the animal, he would probably say something like: “This really sucks. I haven’t eaten anything in 2 days and it is really wearing on me. I don’t particularly relish the idea of leaving this foraging area since I don’t want to expend any extra energy walking – and it might turn out that the new area is just as bad. On the other hand, I can’t stay here – so, here goes …” And then he walks off towards “parts unknown” in search of a new source of chow.
But what about the human animal? How do we deal with discouragement? And where does that pesky, discouragement-impervious salesman stand on this?
Despair is one way that humans react to discouragement. In the foraging animal scenario, we might imagine the case of an animal who allows himself to believe that the situation really is hopeless, and that starvation is inevitable. Of course, though, this is hard to imagine in an animal, because we never see it happening in the wild. Darwin’s natural selection would probably quickly eliminate any animals which were prone to viewing things through the lens of hopelessness. Instead, animals seem to be quite content to expend every last ounce of their energy in order to survive – even if that means migrating to a new area. Like the discouragement-impervious salesman who makes the switch from selling automobiles to selling kitchen appliances.
We can’t see into the animal’s mind, but it would be very interesting to know whether starving animals experience something akin to the human sense of hopelessness and self-pity. Part of the answer might have to do with living outdoors – in freedom. In this case, because the animal can always see a connection between, on the one hand, making an effort, and, on the other hand, a change in his location or environment, it might help to insulate the animal from despair. If, instead, the animal finds himself in a cage, then he might be more prone to turning to a feeling of despair, self-pity and surrender. I am thinking of a fly that has been caught in a spider’s web and paralyzed by the venom.
So maybe one key, in the case of the human response to discouragement and despair, has to do with keeping oneself in the “outdoors freedom” mentality? “Okay, so this foraging area (job-search area) has proven to be unfruitful. So what are my options? I could stay here and, eventually, starve to death. Or I could migrate to a new area? Or try looking in a new field?” (Isn’t it ironic that “a new field” is the same phrase that the animals would use if they could describe their migration decision?)
Wild animals have been using their twin instincts to never-give-up and to migrate-when-necessary in order to keep going for countless generations. And all of this while enduring daily hardships which would probably make even the sturdiest of mankind wilt. So what lessons can we humans learn from watching their example? Keep on moving. Keep on exploring. And don’t waste a second on despair. Kind of reminds you of that pesky salesman, doesn’t it?