Get Up Again--Develop the Skill of GritMar 07, 2023
This week I want to share a psychological skill I admire in my father—grit. As an immigrant to Canada he was met with his share of adversity. After completing his degree in soil science, employers told him he didn’t have enough experience, even though he had 9 years of laboratory work back home in Guyana. He didn’t leave. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work on a farm as a hired hand. When he didn’t have enough money for a car to get to work and the bus route stopped ten miles from the farm, he didn’t give up. He got up at 4 am to take the early bus and walked the rest of the way so he could be there for 6AM milking. My father didn’t waste time arguing with those that doubted him or complaining about his circumstances. He just put his head to the task and worked away steadily at achieving his goals. He was committed to long-term goals and did not let setbacks deter him from achieving his goals.
My father exemplified the very meaning of GRIT.
Angela Duckworth’s famous study of cadets at West Point Military Academy drew attention to grit. Despite having a rigorous admission process, West Point found that 1 in 20 accepted freshmen dropped out before “Beast Barracks,” the seven-week-long basic training, was over. Duckworth found that a prospect’s grit score was more predictive of who would succeed than measures of intelligence or physical abilities.
My own dissertation focused on grit because I have noticed as a coach that many talented people quit early—they couldn’t handle setbacks like waiting and training through a red-shirt season while a stronger and more experienced veteran took the field. Sometimes talented folks never develop grit, and as a result, underachieve in the end. If you’re someone who found school easy and flew through job interviews only to find yourself in self-doubt months into the position and frustrated with the role you’ve got, consider making this moment an opportunity to grow your grit rather than leaving.
Here are 3 simple steps to developing your Grit:
- Get away from the people who will tear you down. The nay-sayers…the Toxic avengers…the Debbie Downers.
There are some people that might be in your orbit who are constantly critical of you. They point out your flaws. They reinforce your self-doubts. They love to catch your mistakes. If you are not careful, all of that negative communication and energy coming at you starts to change your belief in yourself. When your self-belief goes, your behavior changes. You stop putting yourself forward. You stop taking risks. Your start to think differently, and your ability to recover from a setback is significantly impacted. Negative people attack your grit.
My dad is always one to be positive. He believes in the ability of EVERYONE to rise to the occasion and is a willing mentor to those who find themselves in a pickle. Helping others develop are the ‘teachable moments’ that bring him joy.
- Narrow Your Focus. Well-roundedness is not excellence. Choose to pursue one ambitious goal at a time.
I first encountered this as a high school track and field athlete. After a provincial meet where I’d placed fourth in multiple events where only the top three places go on to nationals, my coach approached me with wise advice, ‘You can qualify at most events, but if you pick one, you could be really special.’ While I was gifted with good genes by my parents, I needed to really drill down into the technique in one event day after day to become the best. When I chose the 400, and stopped jumping and hurdling, it paved my way to university.
- Stay the Course. It’s important to stick with situations. Constantly switching from challenge to challenge and leaving when the going gets tough chips away at your resilience.
My wife and I learned this with our son who shows interest and aptitude in so many things. We found ourselves signing him up for lessons in everything from drawing to karate, football to hip hop. Each time, he was out of the gate with exuberance, but as that first session came to an end, he was not eager to extend. Eventually, we stopped moving him around and left him on the swim team, which was the right move. Now, if his times aren’t fast enough, the coach is correcting his technique. He gets to figure out how to fix it by sticking with it. He owns the failures, and he owns the successes. Sticking with one thing builds his belief that he can succeed at whatever he truly puts his mind and time to.
Simply put: By becoming more gritty, you grow your self-confidence—the belief that you can master any task you need to achieve your goals.
My father was nearly 30 when he started university. Even after he’d put everything on the line, apart from his wife and two young children to get this prized education, there were no professional jobs for racialized men. He didn’t pack up. He took an entry-level position as a pest-control technician and rose through the ranks to be a five-time National Top Sales Manager.
You don’t have to start from scratch in a foreign land to grow your grit. You can learn to stick with things right where you are. You can practice perseverance. Grit is a skill learned through repetition. And when you acquire more of it, your belief in yourself rises putting you another step closer to being self-confident and finding out what you’re truly capable of.
From my Dad to you, “Never give up.” That is the simple, yet elegant lesson to building your grit.
Thanks for all the life lessons, Dad. You will be missed.
Ivan Albert Lucius Joseph
April 27, 1943- March 3, 2023