What Squirrels Can Teach Us About Perseverance

By: Francie Dalton

Look to the furry creatures for guidance on prevailing in tough situations.

Defeated in your efforts to motivate employees?

Stymied in your job search?

Thwarted by obstructionist behaviors?

Your ability to prevail in tough situations may depend on your resourcefulness. However, the very moment when you most need that characteristic is precisely when it is most elusive.

Overcoming your most vexing dilemmas requires quick access to your inner reservoir of resourcefulness. One effective way to gain that access is through the use of metaphor. For example, consider squirrels.

Perpetually facing intense competition for food and shelter amid increasing environmental threats, squirrels prevail in abundance. Much of what will equip you to succeed in tough situations can be discerned by observing squirrel behaviors. Ignoring their less-than-desirable traits, squirrels are

  1. willing to turn themselves upside down to get what they need.
  2. able to ignore their wounds and keep going.
  3. willing to be treated as pests if it helps them succeed.
  4. able to accomplish amazing feats because they're willing to try what others believe is impossible.
  5. unconquerably persistent (as evidenced by those singularly ineffective "squirrel-proof" bird feeders).

To determine how the squirrel metaphor could be useful for you, answer a few questions:

For which of your challenges have you not yet turned yourself upside down? What would constitute turning yourself upside down without losing your grip on your objective?

When have you allowed past wounds to keep you from doing the right thing?

In what situations have you failed to articulate possible solutions for fear of what others might think? Whose endorsement could you privately seek, or with whom could you share attribution, to increase receptivity to your ideas?

When have you noticed your commitment waning because others were scoffing? History is replete with examples of life-changing ideas that were originally ridiculed. Find one analogous enough to keep you inspired.

When have you encountered difficulties that tempt you to stop trying? Could you start smaller, taking sequential baby steps instead of a giant leap? Could you tap expertise beyond your own?

To identify other metaphors that may be effective, first recall past moments or experiences that resonated strongly with you. Next, make a list of everything about the moment or experience that was profound. Finally, determine whether your list reveals new ways to access the resourcefulness needed to resolve your current challenge.

Using metaphors like "squirrel sense" will accelerate access to your resourcefulness, which will help you turn excuses into execution and rationalizations into results. Even more important, though, is that with each crisis you face, this process will reveal that you are the rescuer you're looking for.

Francie Dalton, CMC, heads the consulting firm Dalton Alliances, Inc., in Washington, DC. For a list of all 22 squirrel behaviors that she has linked to personal and professional success, email her at [email protected].

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Squirrel Sense."]

Francie Dalton