Editor’s Note: This article was written by Noah Brand, editor at the Good Men Project, where it first appeared.
Soon, very soon, probably even today, you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to want to just stop wasting energy on this stupid thing and just let it go. It’s okay…. You are better at ‘not quitting’ than anything that has ever lived on this planet.
It’s another beautiful dawn on the veldt, two million years ago. You’re an antelope. And something appears on the horizon, approaching at a steady lope. As it gets closer, you recognize it as a dangerous predator. No problem; you’re an antelope, and you’re built to run.
You take off in a burst of speed that would blind most species, and the predator recedes toward the horizon. Except that when your sprint ends, it’s still coming. You run again. You run to the limits of your endurance, until the predator is a dot in the distance, until you can’t run another inch. But the dot in the distance is still coming, that same steady lope unchanged. By the time it’s close enough to make you afraid again, you’ve got enough left in you for one more phenomenal sprint, which carries you miles away in minutes.
But the predator’s still coming, and it catches up to you. And it’s got a knobbly stick in one of its gripping limbs, and you’re how that particular homo erectus feeds its family that week. Nothing can beat it.
Nothing can fight it. Some things can outrun it but that doesn’t matter. Because there’s no hack for “doesn’t ever quit” and so nothing on your veldt can compete with that two-legged, goofy-looking predator and its unbeatable strategy. That strategy is called persistence hunting, and there’s strong evidence that it’s how we, humans, evolved as a species.
That it was our first great advantage over the other species, the one that kept us going when the Smilodon and Eohippus gave way to better, more efficient models. The dinosaurs became chickens, and we became as gods. And it wasn’t language, it wasn’t binocular vision, it wasn’t even opposable thumbs. (Not that I’m complaining about the thumbs. They’re terrific.)
Our first superpower, our greatest, is and always has been persistence. When the antelopes ran away, we just kept going until we caught them anyway. When the earth froze over and nothing could live, we just kept going until we found spring again. When climate change killed every member of our species except a population the size of a small town, we kept going and thrived anyway.
If you are alive and reading this, you are the heir of two million years of not quitting. If you are alive and reading this, you are the heir of two million years of not quitting. Before we mastered language and learned to team up better than anyone, before we mastered weaving and made the baskets that made us the best hunter-gatherers in the universe, before we mastered agriculture and built cities and invented civilization, we had one hack, one exploit, one superpower that made all the rest possible.
Soon, very soon, probably even today, you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to want to just stop wasting energy on this stupid thing and just let it go. It’s okay. That’s a perfectly normal, human thing to feel. But when that happens, try this. Picture an antelope receding across a veldt faster than you can run.
You’ll never be as fast as the antelope, and it knows that. It thinks it’s safe, it thinks you’ll starve, because you can’t outrun it. I’m not saying you can outrun it. I’m saying you can outlast it. And if that weren’t true, you wouldn’t be alive to read this.
You are better at ‘not quitting’ than anything that has ever lived on this planet. Just remember that.