“Grit” is one of those fun words that sounds like what it means: it sounds rough and gruff and unyielding. It conjures True Grit inspired images of cowboys, and a feeling of teeth being ground together. Grit is solid and hardy. Grit is tough. Grit is the sort of word that you can growl or spit. It’s almost impossible not to understand what grit means.
Yet at the same time, the meaning of grit goes beyond the visceral cues in the word itself. Psychologist Angela Duckworth gave the word a new colloquial connotation when she began studying the trait of grit and its relation to success. Her findings were inspiring: there was a direct correlation between how successful a person is and how much grit that person has- more of a connection than someone’s success to IQ or success to raw talent. In fact, the most encouraging thing about the results is that unlike talent and IQ, grit can be taught and built in all of us, meaning that anyone from anywhere is capable of success!
So what is “Grit”? Our friends at Merriam-Webster define grit as “Firmness of mind or spirit…unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” According to Ms. Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.”
As the old saying goes, “You only fail if you don’t get back up.” This idea is the very heart of grit. People with grit see their failures as a reason to try harder instead of a reason to give up. They take their mistakes in stride, without so much as missing a step, and they learn from them as they go along.
Students with grit are more likely to graduate, according to Duckworth’s research. Those gritty students are the ones who, when told to reconsider their goals because they don’t have what it takes, will try twice as hard to prove everyone wrong. When they struggle, they will dial up the determination and push with all their might. Students with grit look struggles in the eye and say, “You will not define me.” Every obstacle is merely a speed-bump to drive over.
Grit is the soldier that presses onward through the battlefield. Grit is the revolutionary behind which all others rally. Grit gives that 80s movie locker room speech. Grit is what got Mulan through the “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” montage.
It’s impossible to be a leader without grit. We hear people say that if you act like you know what you’re doing, the people around you will think you do, and it’s true! If you saw a person who never gave up and always believed they could win, you would get behind them. A good leader leads through their grit. The grit gives their followers confidence, and serves as an inspiration to the people around them to take charge and persevere in their own lives. A leader isn’t predisposed to win- they just refuse to lose.
“Sounds good,” you say, “but that’s just not me. I have anxiety. I’m terrible under pressure. I never have self-confidence, and no one would ever follow me.”
Good news! Grit isn’t something in-born, and it isn’t a “you either got it or you don’t” trait. Everyone in the world you see with grit had to build that grit in themselves…so you can build it in yourself! Grit follows Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset concept, which says that your ability to learn changes with the effort you put into learning. Your grittiness changes with the amount of work and motivation you put into it. You can train yourself to be that determined and tenacious; the trick is just don’t stop trying.
Grit is that age-old wisdom of falling down seven times, and still rising again…and you can snatch it up for yourself just by saying, “I will.” So take it slow: start with a single, small-term goal, and focus your grit on making it happen. And when it does, go to two goals. Then three. Before you know it, grit will become second nature, and will have spread to every facet of your life.
Because when you think about it, deciding to build your grit is the grittiest thing you can do!