4 min read
30 Jul

Today let’s talk about True Grit. 

It’s a compliment to tell someone they have true grit. It’s not something we hear very often. But what does that mean?  What are the aspects to having True Grit? And is it teachable? 

Watching the Olympics got me thinking about this.  Grit is different than talent because many talented individuals don’t have grit. Top athletes seem to have both…and more. What makes the great versus the greatest? What can we apply to our own lives from watching these superstars? What do we need to strive for to win our own proverbial gold medals? 

These thoughts made me realise how my definition of true grit has evolved recently. The importance of mental well-being is now being recognised and discussed openly by many. This includes many top athletes, most recently Naomi Osaka during the French Open and Wimbledon and this week Simone Biles.  The power to take agency over our own mental well-being is clearly vital.  Good for these individuals to have the courage to speak about their plight.  Grit is a predictor of success. Its components of positivity and mental wellbeing are as equally important as perseverance and passion. 

On taking a deeper dive into researching Grit, the work of two Scientists must be mentioned. Dr Carol Dweck from Stamford University developed the concept of “Growth Mindset” which plays a large part in having grit. Growth mindset is the belief that the ability to learn can be changed by effort. People with a growth mindset believe their talents can grow through hard work, that their skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence. They can be OK with failure and grow from it. She talks about “the Power of Yet”, and the importance to recognise that we may not be able to do something YET. We should raise our kids or encourage our work colleagues with the “not Yet” mindset. If we made a mistake, that’s fine. We haven’t mastered it YET. Learn from it. Correct it. We can all dream big, think about what we want to be and contribute to society. I recommend listening to Dr Dweck’s Ted Talk on Growth Mindset. 

A discussion about grit and Ted Talks must include Angela Lee Duckworth, Scientist, bestselling Author, Founder of Character Lab whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development. I recommend her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. According to the book, it’s not innate intelligence but resolve and tenacity that makes people successful. Her Ted Talk on this title has had over 24 million views.

I humbly add my own experience to defining grit. I am not a professor researching its scientific components. However, I have been able to identify from my three decades in Advisory the certain characteristics that define people with grit. Having grit is indeed a predictor of success. 

I have advised CEOs of Fortune 50 companies, entrepreneurs who have become billionaires, heads of regional and global charities striving to make the world better, and successful business leaders who are segueing into philanthropy.  My clients have also included published authors (both ex-offenders and ex-addicts), politicians, as well as countless parents who have struggled to raise their families and people in their midlives who want to persevere to re-discover their passion.  When I think about characteristics that are evident in these people, the key components of having grit become clear.   

Character Traits of True Grit: 

Positive, Growth Mindset: Having a growth mindset is vital. This means embracing challenges, learning from criticism, seeking out inspiration in others’ successes, and believing in the Power of “Yet” (we haven’t done it…YET). This is a mindset of being positive, of having hope. Having the courage to process errors and learn from them. Being able to manage the fear of failure defines a growth mindset and the grittiest of people. To this, I add having the courage to prioritise your mental well-being.   

Passion:  Having passion for goals provides the energy and motivation to take the action steps necessary to achieve that goal. 

Resilience:  Finding a passion is not enough without resilience. Resilience to me is a step more than perseverance. It’s the ability to work hard, be consistent, have endurance, to roll up the sleeves and keep going towards the goal. Resilience incorporates optimism. It moves us forward to keep persevering to accomplish a task despite whatever obstacles are in our way. 

Many teachers say resilience is lacking now in students. Is that because we have engendered a Fixed Mindset in our younger generation? Perhaps we need to start teaching growth mindsets in ourselves and those we influence. 

Grit means working to set and accomplish a goal. It means embracing optimism while we are working hard to follow through on commitments. We are reliable, dependable, hard working. We want those people on our team. We want to be that person. 

The character traits which demonstrate true grit have been discussed for centuries. For example, Aristotle believed tenacity was one of the valued virtues. Amelia Earhart is a quintessential female daredevil who demonstrated true grit in obtaining her dream. 

A champion of grit was Teddy Roosevelt who often spoke about the importance of perseverance and courage. Many examples of Roosevelt’s grit abound, including his famous 1912 speech given while shot in the chest. He was preparing to speak and was shot. Undeterred, he proceeded to deliver the speech and spoke for 90 minutes, before being taken to hospital. The bullet stayed in his chest for the rest of his life. 

There are numerous other examples of famous people who overcame failure and succeeded and who have demonstrated true grit. And there are also numerous examples of people who have true grit who are not famous. 

Positivity, passion, and perseverance can be reflected in less public forums as well. The individuals who work multiple jobs to financially support their families, yet still have the energy, focus and positivity to instil emotional support and values at home. The unemployed person who in a tight job market continues to focus on his goal to find a job, learn from the failures and keeps persevering to send out hundreds of CVs. The employed person who hates their job but is stuck in it. The emotionally exhausted person who can’t find the time to refuel but keeps on persevering through his daily tasks. And that brings up how my definition of true grit has evolved recently

We must all take our own health into account and have the courage to take the time for our well-being.  I praise and salute and congratulate each of us who demonstrates their own individual true grit. 

Where do we go?   

Lots has been written and discussed about true grit, but it’s clear that scientists and researchers have not yet pinpointed what creates this motivation for the long term. In other words, we can’t teach True Grit. But we can influence the way we cope with challenges. As Angela Duckworth said, it takes grittiness to have true grit. 

Let’s all continue to find our inner true grit and be role models for those around us. Let’s not waste any more time and adapt a growth mindset. Let’s focus on the concept of “YET”, our own goals and our well-being. Let’s teach that to the people around us. 

I am a firm believer in the importance of refuel time and that our physical and mental well-being is vital. I was listening to a podcast today from ESPN discussing Simone Biles and athletes' recent concept of having the power to take control over their own health and well-being. What was said stuck with me. I paraphrase: “The top 100 athletes of the world all look similar physically. It’s from the neck up that makes them truly remarkable. If something is broken from the neck up, then it will take a lifetime to heal. We must learn it’s OK to sit out a match, a competition, (a period of work, I add)  if that’s what is required for your longevity”. 

Raising your hand up and saying you need a break no longer has the stigma it had when I started my career in Finance 35 years ago.  It shows how strong a person you are. Let’s not waste any more of our life. Let’s live in a world that is overflowing with positivity, mental well-being, and people working hard, persevering, embracing their passion towards their own and towards collective goals. That to me is the ideal - a world filled with individuals who have true grit. 

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have additions to my definition of true grit?

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