I am not sure I had ever heard the word GRIT used until John Wayne made it famous in the film True Grit. I do remember people talking about gumption and mustering up, but grit was not part of my vocabulary as a young person. Yet, oddly enough, it was a part of who I was, how I confronted things, and what helped me achieve my goals and dreams.
“[…] grit is a better indicator of success than talent.”
Exactly what is grit?
Thanks to Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s amazing work on the subject, grit has moved to the forefront of our collective consciousness as one of the key tools to achieve success and live a great life. Through her work, we can now put a finger on what is the seemingly mysterious fuel that empowers people to redouble their efforts and gets them across the finish line. She and her colleagues defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and a quite common acronym for grit is:
Guts or Gumption
I agree that the above are all components of what builds grit and/or are synonyms for grit. Grit is the ability to stick with and pursue a goal over a long period. In fact, it has been proven that grit is a better indicator of success than talent. I can’t think of a better quote than this one from Will Smith to highlight this idea:
“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?”
I want to share with you my personal journey and how I have come to define grit as a skill we can all hone and develop.
Grit, the road of perseverance and patience
My story starts with growing up in a very dysfunctional relationship with my alcoholic father. I wanted nothing more than to have a normal relationship with him. Looking back, I realize that there were a lot of benefits I took away from that tenuous experience. I learned how to navigate uncertainty. I also learned perseverance and patience. As I grew older, I wanted nothing more than to leave. I started to fantasize about how to do just that. Money, I believed, was my golden ticket out.
I started doing every job I could find at the ripe age of thirteen. I wanted to buy my way into greater freedom. This is when grit took hold. I set a long-term objective and did what was needed to eventually set me on a path which I believed would free me. I worked when others were partying. I went to work at 5 am before school and then got right back to work after school. My childhood became a quasi-adulthood, discovering things like priorities and obligations, when others were discovering girls and new ways of having fun.
[…] grit is understanding the need to make short term sacrifices for a longer-term goal.”
I learned that grit is understanding the need to make short term sacrifices for a longer-term goal, and it was this understanding that gave me a basis to build grit. My relationship with my father also helped me understand that resilience is moving beyond obstacles in order to reconnect to one’s inner determination, aligned with a focused purpose of achieving big dreams.
Soon after graduating from college, I found myself in the finance space. I was accepted to the Columbia University Executive MBA Program and my life just expanded from there. Looking from the outside in, you would have seen an amazing life; great job, a beautiful wife who was pursuing an MD-PhD, and living a yuppie lifestyle in New York City.
The formula that rebuilt my life
All of that started to crumble when my wife was diagnosed with stage 3 Breast Cancer at 31 years of age. I was being called on to tap into resilience and grit once again. Together we embarked on creating a balanced life that included her cancer. More than just surviving, she wanted to achieve her long-term goal of using her intimate knowledge of being a cancer patient to add value to the field of medicine. Within a few years of her residency she became Medical Director of the Palliative Care Consult Service at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. She passed away a few years after taking the position, succumbing to her valiant battle.
When I add all those experiences together – the journey with my wife, with my father, and with myself – I came to define grit differently:
Pursuing a long-term, purposeful GOAL,
with unrelenting RESOLVE fueled by resilience,
and focused INTENTION,
while maintaining unwavering TRUST in oneself.
It was this formula that helped me rebuild my life and reach impossible dreams. My wife’s clear intention and achievements crystallized in me the resolve to venture into a life that would be in service to others. I decided then and there to take a leap of faith. I left the security of my investment banking job, the comfort of my social community, and ventured off to pursue two deep-rooted dreams: To become a Life Coach and move to Italy. I am now a certified Life Coach and live in a small Italian mountain village. The same village my great-grandfather immigrated to America from over 100 years ago. I could not have done any of it without grit as my ally.
Neuroscience keeps demonstrating that we can create new pathways in our brains through sustained effort and experience. This is called Neuroplasticity. Dr. Norman Doidge, Dr. Joe Dispenza, and Barbara Arrowsmith have presented a wealth of research showing how we have an enormous capacity to change our brains. The ability to push forward and not give up is learnable. The challenge is that building grit takes time and sacrifice. We need to be willing to break the habit of focusing on immediate gratification.
Think about what the world would look like today if these people didn’t show tenacity, grit, and a never quit mindset:
Disney after being fired for not having imagination;
Oprah who was fired for not being “fit for TV”.
Napoleon Hill, in his classic Think and Grow Rich, tells a story about a man who was three feet from gold. The story describes R. U. Darby’s Uncle who went West with the hopes of striking it rich in the days of the gold rush. Just as fast as he found gold, the vein of gold ore vanished, and he gave up. In desperation, he sold all of his equipment to a junk man. That same man later found millions of dollars worth of ore three feet away from where Darby’s Uncle had given up. 36 inches short of grit.
How can you set yourself down the path of cultivating grit?
We need to begin by understanding our values, accessing our strengths, leveraging resilience and identifying our purpose. All of those virtues begin with self-awareness.
Self-awareness, at its core, is understanding how you show up in your everyday life. It is crucial to goal setting. What are your predominant thoughts, beliefs and actions? Are they limiting or empowering? Fixed or growth focused? Constructive or destructive? Lack of self-awareness is the biggest barrier to realizing your potential and building your store of grit. It was that gap in his sense of self and purpose that kept R.U. Darby’s Uncle from going that extra 3 feet.
Forget the hammers, chisels, pickaxes and shovels formerly used to mine gold in the days of the gold rush. It is self-awareness which is your most powerful tool to connect to that mysterious fuel that empowers people to redouble their efforts and get them across the finish line. Being self-aware will allow you to unearth treasures you cannot even yet imagine.
Contemplate these three powerful questions to spark your self-awareness:
- How do I want to show up in my life today?
- What has stopped me from going those extra 36 inches in the past?
- If I could let go of fear, what would I be doing?
Without becoming self-aware I could have never achieved my heart’s desire. I know for certain, that the more you practice self-awareness, the more you can achieve. You will become more gritty through the experience of self-discovery.
I encourage you to wield the tool of self-awareness so you can profit from the experiential gold mine buried deep in your personal stories. A richness which is the source of your grit, and, once excavated, can be harnessed for growth.
Mind the gap of that invaluable 36 inches of perseverance so you can thrive.
“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” ―Dale Carnegie.
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