Wednesday, September 19, 2012

True Grit


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! 

45 comments:

  1. It's true that grit and determination pay off, and I know that there have been times when I've had to dig deep and carry on against adversity, and when I've succeeded, that success has been all the sweeter. I've tried to instill that philosophy in my children, too, and be that person who says 'Keep going! You can do it!' for them. I think we all need someone to do that for us occasionally, when we're yielding to the temptation to give up. I know I've always had a tendency to doubt myself. I try my best not to let that part of me win.

    P.S. Apologies for not commenting lately. Life has been keeping me busy!

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    1. Roz, hope all is great! We love to see you here whenever you can make it (ie NO guilt!) And, yeah, I think doubt is definitely the nemesis of Grit. That's why it's good to be aware of it and just ... grit our teeth past it. I think. Right? :)

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  2. Barb...!!! What is up with our Telepathic connection!!! I was talking about the EXACT SAME THING yesterday...More than that..I didnt know why I was missing you a lot yesterday....Well, I do now! I took the test...My score is pretty high.. somewhere between 4.0 to 4.4. Not bad.

    I knew a handwriting specialist (My friend's mom who offered to give me a free consultation) who told me "You have a damn hard grit to face any crisis in your life." I had loads of emotional crisis...and Well she was right in the sense I did get out of all of them on my own. And I tend to do that. Mostly when I used to need support everybody was suddenly busy....So I had to do it myself! Sooo grateful to them now. Dont regret it even a little bit.

    The way you explained it was perfect. Ive had a very very dark time when I hit rock bottom. Nothing was working...I was on the verge of being suicidal...and I saw that light.... and thats all I needed to go and break the shit outta that dumb "not possible" wall. And I never looked back!

    And In case of work I have this bizarre quality. I think I mentioned it when we skyped. When I reach to a place where I know I hit dead-end. Something inside me just riles up...and I get all "There's always a way out". Same thing happened with I was painting you and Deb. I had a hard time painting the hair....and had given up. The next minute...IDK I just I get up.....wash my face (BTW its 5.55! perfect timing) take my wacom tablet sit in front of my computer......and JUST GOOOOO!!!!!!!!! And I have nooooooo fucking clue...How I managed to paint it! NO CLUE. NONE AT ALL! But I did. So....Thanks universe for that quality! It happens so many times.. I just love it!

    So...I think I have true grit too....And I feel it very intensely when my Ass if on fire or Ive hit rock bottom! yeah well DUH!?! Its even surprising sometimes to see myself like that. But I...LOVE IT!

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    1. Sooo great, Shalaka! And I also see that all of us, no matter how wonderfully we're surrounded by supportive people, and no matter how helpful those people are, must do that work of facing and breaking through that wall on our own. I've had many moments that you descrive here with the painting with my writing. I feel like I can never ever ever solve a story problem -- and then there it is: the solution!

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  3. I scored in between a 3.5 and a 3.9...whatever that means. Grittyish? Sure that works :]

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    1. I love "gritty-ish". I also thought the test felt a bit, I don't know... simple? I guess the truth comes out to some degree, but as I was saying to Deb today, I find her enormously gritty in the long haul/big picture, even if her results were lower and she gets maybe easily distracted -- but it's in the moment, not in the big picture. Does this make sense?

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  4. I'm quite gritty as well. But I do have to say that it is said that in every Finnish person there is grit running through their veins :) (If I translated the word correctly.) So I might have an added advantage compared to others :P

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    1. Kasku...I LOVE YOUR NEW PICTURE!! You look gorgeous...xoxo

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    2. Thank you Shalaka! It was taken at my friends wedding last Saturday. :)

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    3. I love your pic too!! You look soooo sassy and gorgeous!! You definitely strike me as a "true grit" kinda gal, what with all you've been through and your perseverance. And it probably does come easier to some than to others, especially if you're "born that way".

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    4. Thank you Barbara :-) I have noticed that I've put my grit on a back burner lately, so I might not be as gritty as I think I am.

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  5. I'm with Roz ive been so busy with life lately that I have hardly had time to comment . I know when I would give up when i went to school or even with work my grandfather would look at me and say " you can do anything you set your mind too, you just have to try" and it would make me more determined then ever to do it. Now that is gone my grandmother say it to me..

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    1. It's good to have those reminders, isn't it??? And you can! I hope all is going great with your busy life. And no guilt if you can't get here every day (although we do miss you!).

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  6. Such an interesting subject!! I took the test and scored 4.5-5. I know I am gritty, I always have been since a small child and I really hope my children are as well because life can be tough and grit gets you through. Great subject Barb!!

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    1. Thanks, Jo! And it helps to be reminded that it is a useful tool, right? That's why it kept sticking with me as something to write about.

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  7. I was right in the middle at 3.0-3.5. A little more than half gritty. Loved the article.

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    1. So interesting, Madge! And thank you.

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  8. i think the test was not quite a true reflection of my personality , i got between 2.5 and 2.9. i think i get to distracted after a time to be really gritty . it can depend on what i need to be gritty over though . my lack of grit is compounded by a very bad short term memory . i know i have to keep on at something or someone but there are times when i forget to do it !

    i think though we also need an element of realism in what our dreams are . when i was younger i always wanted to be a singer . one problem i can;t sing in tune ! never give up is right but those goals have to be reachable in the first place . as i get older i find myself becoming more realistic about myself and others .

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    1. Actually, this is a GREAT point, Linda. I think you need to have a balance (as with so much) in terms of what you're going to stick to and why. There should be some basis and some inherent value for you and your life. As for the test score, it sounds like you have the same issue as Deb -- probably, as with Deb, the test results reflect little things and maybe not the big-picture stuff...

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  9. 3.5-3.9

    I would've scored much higher earlier in adulthood, but I've been functioning with depleted internal reserves in recent history. I am gritty as hell about raising my son, but everything else has gotten a lot wobblier. I take care of my son. I provide for him despite being at poverty level. And, I get through each day despite being trapped (for 18 more months) in a place I hate (and, I don't use that word lightly -- I mean it fully and with all vitrol - HATE) and in the face of crippling loneliness. I've also lost grit to chronic illness. My body won't let me do what my mind wants me to do a lot of days.

    There'll be more of me to go around and I'll be able to fill up my internal gas tanks a little better in a couple of years. I retook the quiz and gave the answers I would've given 10 years ago, and it came out 4.5-5.0. I've been in survival mode too long and have hemorrhaged too much of my life force after taking too many sniper shots. But, for the record, it took a hell of a lot of grit to decide to stay alive for this long. I almost didn't survive a few years ago. So, that grit quiz can kiss my ass. The fact that I am here and functioning means I am gritty.

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    1. Hear, hear!! (and read above for how I really feel about that test :) ). You are full of grit, Rigel. And I also believe that the grit you show toward your son and his issues will be full force channeled toward your own experiences in a few short years. And that will be interesting, indeed!

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  10. As most of you know I don't need to take a test to know I have grit, that I am a survivor. The greatest compliment I ever got was from Mr. David Dortort (executive producer of Bonanza) after communicating with him over the years and finally meeting him in person. He called me a true warrior but not in the sense of battle or killing but in the sense of someone who continues to fight depite the odds and doesn't let the bad jade them and make them bitter. I think that's true we have to fight even to survive sometimes but we have to stay true to ourselves as well. We have to find and appreciate the rewards of our perserverence and find joy and happiness in our lives too. I always told my kids if we didn't have pain and sadness we wouldn't appreciate the good things as much

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    1. Oh, Mary, so so so beautiful. Yes. To every word. And, once again, bow to your warrior goodness!!

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    2. Barb- I'll find the letter where he wrote it and send you the exact wording via FB. I treasure that letter very much because Bonanza saved my life when I was a little girl it was my escape from reality. Meeting him I found the most articulate, kind, and empathetic human being I had ever known to this day. He was a wonderful man and treasure.

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    3. Oh, I'd love to see that, Mary! Such a treasure.

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  11. I took the test and I am extremely gritty...4.8 to 5 gritty...the grittiest as were...I shall offer nothing more other than to say being labeled "extremely gritty" has a slightly negative overtone but as nothing else has offered me any affirmation today, I may call the husband and ask him if he wants to dine out tonight by way of celebrating my gritty core. :)

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    1. Yeah, I was also saying privately to Deb that my own grittiness can drive me mad sometimes. Sometimes I hate it. But today, today, I will own it. Drink up, baby!

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  12. If I look back over the course of my life, or even where in life I am today I don't see much grit. I've lived through a lot but it seems there was never any choices made or determination that got me through it I just went with the flow. If I ask myself what dreams have I pursued fought for and won? I'm afraid that nothing really comes to mind. It doesn't matter I've given up anyways. I'm here for the other people in my life, they can dream I'll just be.

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    1. Hmmm, Anon, maybe it's time to shake things up a bit in that regard??? Maybe it's time to choose one thing -- even a small thing -- just for you and see it through. I've always found that it gets easier and easier to live for yourself, especially when you see how much that overflows over the people around you. Although nothing wrong with "being". I think it's highly rated!

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    2. I've had experiences that lead me to believe honestly that "just being" is an accomplishment in itself. I call it "neutral," and there are a LOT of times I just wish for neutral, for DOWN to just stop.
      Obviously I dont know you, but, in my book, surviving, being, is a level of success.
      I wish you peace.

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  13. 4.2-4.6

    Yeah that seems about right, although I think I'd attribute that score to stubborness more than anything. Nothing gets me more riled up than someone telling me I can't do something! I can sometimes let things set me back but I recover farily quickly; I guess in those instances it is my grit that keeps me going.

    In other news my husband and I have wanted to take the kids to Disney World for AGES but could never manage it. Well in true grit (wasn't that a recent movie?) fashion I've been saving every loonie and toonie that has crossed my path for about two years now and guess who just booked their flight and 8 night stay in Orlando?!

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    1. Yay! Good for you Erin. I promised my kids that trip as well and by the time I had the money they were fifteen and twelve. I felt awful for taking so long but you know what they were the perfect ages to enjoy it and they did. They still talk about it and they're in their twenties now. Have a great time and take lots of pictures.

      XOXO

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    2. 'True Grit' was indeed a recent movie, but I do remember it as a John Wayne movie.

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  14. I'm between 3.5 and a 3.9 :/
    I'm fine with that score, but the questions weren't really that in-depth...

    I think it should be more in-depth because some of the questions i couldn't answer like i liked because i can be a certain way for important things and not that way for less important things.

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    1. I agree, Garrett. It was so "simple" feeling that I almost didn't link to it, but then I thought, aw, heck, it's there, link, people usually know where they stand. Even so, I think it's still nice to step back and think about it...

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  15. hmmmm. I scored betw. 2.5 and 3.9 (um, which one I wonder?) which I'm perfectly content with. I think if you score a 5 you would score very low on a flexibility and acceptance test, which frankly you need as much as you need grit, don't you think? oh hell, we all are just doing the best we can at any given moment, aren't we? ;)

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    1. Yeah, I said the same thing to a number of readers above, that I don't think the test really gives you a clear idea of what and when. Like Deb, for instance, who I've known for so many years and who says she scored lowish and that she feels she gets easily distracted -- but I KNOW it's for little stuff and not at all for bigger things, or things that are truly important to her. That said, I still think the theory itself is interesting. And maybe useful when we believe in something a lot and then find ourselves ... giving ... up... You know, right?

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  17. 2.5--2.9

    Not unexpected. Like Rigel, my score was probably higher before certain challenges manifested themselves. I'm now easily distracted. I also do lose interest in activities or subjects after a few months. I get VERY easily discouraged and have a tough time turning a negative into a positive. I'm working on that last one with my therapist. I think if I can really get that down, it'll help deal with the others. It would certainly help the 'discouraged' part.

    My ass was kicked, but serious, once. No amount of determination, 'grit,' what have you, would have helped in that situation. I LOST.

    On the positive side, I can point to one accomplishment I achieved because I worked HARD for it, dammit. It meant the WORLD to me, still does. Still working on it, too. When I care about something, I WORK at it. Just, sometimes I lose focus or just don't know what I care about.

    I'm rambling. At least I'm clean. There's no grit between my teeth or in the corners of my eyes. :)

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    1. You can always make me wanna laugh and cry at the same time (this, btw, is a good thing!) Believe me, I've had my ass kicked and hard many times. But the things I can stick too I've stuck to out of, sometimes, rabid and frustrating, determination. Yeah, grit can suck sometimes!

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    2. Although, still going to stand by you as you grit through not getting discouraged. That would be great, wouldn't it?

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  18. I came up at 3.5 on the grit metre. A nice middle of the road number. Grit depends on the situatuin. I know that personally, just before a project is finished or the top of the mountain is in site, I usually have a melt down - throwm myself a pitty party. can't do it any more, can't walk another step. What a WHIMP! Over time , I have come to recognize this and my mini melt down usually brings on a smaile and a final push because I know the end is in site (wish I could say I embraced every challenge and sailed through to the end with a confident smile but that's just not true).

    So I don't know that's the stuff the grit-o-metre is measuring. (Its hard to snivel effectively while you are gritting your teeth - try it - its impossible!)

    But where I do shine is in the face of immediate adversity. Impossible situation? Fran to the rescue. Destruction? Look, we can straighten this up in no time. Bear on the trail before us? Hey why is everyone hiding behind me? That is where my grit comes out. I do well under extreme pressure. Day to day? Not so much. I guess this means I should start doing red cross work in forgien countries or something more challenging than making granola for a living - no room for grit in granola!

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    1. Hilarious, fran! Oh I so know those last-minute pity parties, held a few of those myself. No one showed up but me. Those are the strangest to find yourself waking up from and brushing yourself off and going again!

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    2. I read this quote once and believe it to this day:

      "Any idiot can face a crisis. It's the day-to-day living that wears you down." - Anton Chekov

      PS Your bear comment made me giggle a LOT.

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