Greetings from Washington, D.C. This is high school graduation season, and, we are joyful that, last weekend, our daughter transitioned to rising college freshman status. It is a happy time, indeed.
Lately, we are thinking a lot about grit. No, not the rough stuff that makes sand paper sand paper, but rather the courage shown by people who overcome daunting obstacles—and great odds—to achieve success in a meaningful life and career.
We think about our daughter’s fellow grad who became a member of the National Honor Society and gained entrance to Virginia Tech while his immigrant parents scrimped and saved for his freshman year’s tuition and board—his first year on campus is fully pre-paid. We learned from our daughter’s principal that her graduating class’ cohort—Gen Z or Plurals—demonstrates more grit than previous generations that he’s tended.
We also think about the Millennial mom in our residential community; she is an ambitious corporate marketing director who rises before 5:30 on Monday mornings; feeds, dresses and gets her two little ones off to daycare; works a full day tending to a $20 million consumer marketing portfolio and five direct reports before returning nine hours later to the daycare facility to retrieve her kids; get them safely home; prepare a home-cooked meal; spend time with her family, and; get the little ones washed and tucked in before tending to her work assignments and unread email, then; settling in for the night—only to repeat the cycle four more times each week.
And we think of veterans who return from the theatre of war to use their skill, experience, and sacrifice to gain meaningful lives and careers.
The grit that all discovered deep within allowed them to overcome daunting challenges, to bear down, to focus, and to complete their tasks—in education, training, or work-assignments—well.
In her best-selling book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth found that “[grit is] the hallmark of high achievers in every domain. She’s also found scientific evidence that grit can grow.”
People with grit are not stoics, they feel emotion and some tend to possess high emotional intelligence. But what they do especially well is to never sweat the small stuff that messes up an otherwise productive day; they keep a laser-focus on their goals and make necessary pivots during the day to find and maintain meaningfulness. With grit, they are able to learn useful lessons resulting from the experience of their prior hardships, put them into perspective, and remind them that “I got through that past upset well, it made me stronger and more resolute, therefore, I can overcome this current upset and still achieve my goals.”
Grit is especially helpful to people who pursue lives and work centered on purpose. For instance, so much of the work done by people in fields such as resource sustainability and social responsibility involves critical interaction with others who may not share their passions and goals—and may, in fact, work against them. Grit helps them to brush off derision or undue criticism and stay true to their mission of protecting the planet, helping people and communities, and getting the job done well.
Do you have grit? Want to find out? Establish your Grit Score here with Duckworth’s Grit Scoring Tool.
We live in difficult times, and yet we often surprise ourselves with grit we never knew that we had; it gets us through great difficulty to lead meaningful lives and work. And when we make grit part of our work success strategy, our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Image credits: Climber with Grit, iStock Photo; Graduation, Dan Smolen; Grit Book Cover, Angela Duckworth.