Barbara: In light of all our recent talk of back-to-school and parenting, I’ve been thinking a lot about an article I read in the Globe and Mail a few weeks back. The article was about a book that Canadian journalist, Paul Tough, had written called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Power of Character. Now I haven’t read the book—we’re not really doing book reviews here—but I still feel intrigued by the theory he puts forth (with which I familiarized myself through the article! … is that cheating?)
Anyway, looooooong story short, Tough (how’s that for a name for a guy destined to write about grit?) has determined that the single most important factor in success—more important than schooling, intelligence, income, genes—is GRIT. Now obviously, schooling, intelligence, income and genes will offer advantages and disadvantages, but the fascinating truth, the truth I think we all know in our hearts to be true but which we sometimes dismiss because we’re too depressed, angry, frustrated, and spent, is that every disadvantage we face (or feel we face) can have its ass KICKED in the face of determined, committed, persistent GRIT.
Tough’s book is geared to parents; I think to give them some ideas of shape and structure to then offer to their kids. And I think offering kids life lessons that embrace and celebrate perseverance is absolutely essential. But as I start this next kidless phase of my life, it has never seemed more important for me, grownup and supposedly all “done”, to remember.
It’s not just hollow condescension to tell yourself (or your beloved) to “never give up” (or to, as Nike owns, “Just do it”); it is, in fact, a measurable, firm and logical plan. It works. Because when all seems to be failing, when everything seems to have hit a wall, inevitably those of us who are open-minded and curious, will suddenly see that barely visible chink in the wall of “Not Possible” backlit by its seemingly otherworldly glow, and we will scratch at that hard place and we will chip at it (and, in the focus of our concerted effort, we will forget that we were just about to give up) until more and more of the glow pours out, until before we know it Not Possible is awash in so much light we no longer see it at all.
This has happened to me more times than I can count. The things I “have”, the accomplishments I most cherish and value, the calm, the peace, the happiness, the wisdom I’ve managed to hold close enough to examine, have all come after not minutes or days or weeks of effort, but after YEARS of it. Years and years and years. And, like I said above, the only time I notice the effort, the only time I resent it!, is when I stop and, well, notice it. If I’m in “the zone”, if I’m just “doing it”, if I’m not even dreaming of “giving up”, it is the most wonderful, exciting, transcendent feeling. But if I’m evaluating my effort, judging it, breathing down at its disinterested little face, it huuuuuuuuurts. Like muscles after a long workout. And this is the moment we all need to face at some points (at many, many points). This is when you need a little GRIT in your back pocket to pull out and rub all over your hands before you slap them together … and start again.
A University of Pennsylvania researcher developed a Grit Test to measure your grit (or GQ, maybe?). Click here if you want to try it. She says that most people are pretty honest when it comes to how they rate their own grit quotient. I scored high, but then I could’ve told you that without the test. It’s the one trait I can say absolutely has gotten me through every single challenge.
Many of you have shared stories here of your own grit over the years, or the grit of your children. I never get tired of them! How gritty are you?
Deb: This is fascinating and it was so interesting taking the test for me, and here is why. Some of my “focus” answers, when I answered them honestly, had nothing to do with grit and everything to do with, well ... focus. My focus is a one part grit and one part focus-impaired. The desire is there, but there are other obstacles that come into play. So, in conclusion, I would say that I have true grit in the face of some learning challenges!