Gaining Grittiness

Much has been written of late about Grit.  The funny thing is, long before it became a catch-word with popular books and blogs posts dedicated to it, my father and both of my grandfathers exemplified grittiness to a tee.  All three would have broken the scale when it came to grit, and I have always assumed that some must have rubbed off on me.

Grit can be defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals and entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.

Gritty individuals like my three male predecessors approach achievement as a marathon rather than a sprint.  A gritty person’s advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, gritty individuals stay the course

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Not that I am very successful now, but when I was just starting out in the “real world” during my twenties and thirties and struggling at my jobs and struggling to rub two nickels together, my father told me on several occasions about how hard he worked for many years to attain the moderate amount of success that he achieved.

I recall my father telling me that it might seem to me like he was doing well and making good money, but that he worked diligently ans steadfastly at his craft for over twenty years before enjoying some modicum of success.

I was younger then, and replied something to the effect of, “Yeah, yeah, Old Man.”  Well, my father is gone and who’s becoming the old man now?  I am, and you are too.

He did not necessarily use the word Grit, but he often spoke of his and his father’s tenacity, perseverance and stubbornness when it came to making a good living and providing for their family.

Grit has many components and is hard to define by a simple ten question quiz as devised by Grit guru Angela Duckworth, although I have yet to find a better quiz.

Asking questions about how diligent you are, how often you set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one and how hard of a worker you consider yourself add up to a numeric measurement of your grit per the Grit Scale devised by Duckworth.

I scored an unimpressive 3.5 out of 5, or grittier than 40% of those who took the quiz but less gritty than a majority.

I’m not claiming to be the grittiest guy that you would ever meet or whose words you would read.  I do have a long way to go and my interests do change from year to year and I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but have later lost interest.

I intend to re-take this grittiness quiz at the end of next year, honestly answering the questions as I did just now.  When I succeed in publishing the three eBooks, earning income online, thinning my hoard of books and saved articles, embracing the notion of abundance to a greater degree, coping with or eliminating my anxieties, creating a larger percentage in relation to what I consume, improving my relationships, taking care of deferred maintenance, and generally improving upon my family’s quality of life, I intend to score higher on the Grit Scale.

It will definitely take some measure of grittiness for me to overcome obstacles, to not give up when things inevitably fail to go my way, to accept my share of long days and evenings toiling at my very challenging job, helping all that I can with my family and writing on a consistent basis to get where I would like to go.

Considering all this, here are a (dozen) things about grit for you and I to consider in our mutual quest for self-improvement.

Grit is Intangible

Beyond the aforementioned Grit Scale, grit is fairly intangible.  It is hard to quantify grit.  Just because I or you go from one project to another and may lose interest in something that we care about a lot right now, does that really mean that we lack the grit to follow through with our goals?

I know that my forefathers would have tested far better than I did on the Grit Scale, but I do not know if they were any more or less gritty than others of their same generation.  Many people pulled themselves out of dire straits during the Great Depression and made something of themselves.  Was everyone who did so especially gritty?  I, for one, think so.

I have met and currently know quite a few highly successful business owners and entrepreneurs through my role as an economic development professional for a local municipality.  Nearly every single one of these men and women are unusually resilient, hard-working and know what goals they want to achieve.

All those being components of grit, it remains a difficult thing to easily quantify.

Can You Inherit Grit?

Can you inherit grit like you can inherit your height or eye color?

Since my father, his father and my mother’s father were all supremely gritty, did I inherit that trait through my genes?

I suspect not, for the simple reason that I have personally witnessed and read about many people whose predecessors built up successful businesses through their sweat, hard work and determination, only to have them frittered away by those who inherit them.

According to The Family Firm Institute, only about 30% of family and businesses survive into the second generation, 12% are still viable into the third generation, and only about 3% of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.

Now that I am concentrating on improving upon my own grit and urging you to do the same, it does help for me to think back on how hard I witnessed my father work toward achieving his goals and the modest amount of success that he ultimately achieved.

The reason that I did not follow exactly in his footsteps is for exactly that reason.  Although it would be like a dream come true for me now, in my earlier twenties just out of college I came to the conclusion that I could not drive myself hard enough to accomplish what my father did working at home.  I figured that I would spend too much time watching TV, taking naps and scrounging through my refrigerator, among other things.  The Internet was not ubiquitous at that point in time, but now you could add surfing the web to things that I might have done instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Here and now, leading into 2018, I think about how great it would be to be able to put my thoughts in writing eight or ten hours per day and how much more I could create than I currently do if it was not for the forty to fifty hours per week that I spend at my full-time employment trying to make a living.

Perhaps the half-measure of grittiness that I am currently employing by writing this (late into the night after work?) and the increased amount of grittiness that I will display in 2018 and beyond will come more naturally to me than some others due to the “Grit Gene” that I may have inherited from my three forefathers.

Grit Grows With Age

A middle aged Middle Class Guy like you or me does not have a choice but to grow grittier with age.  Grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity, according to Duckworth.

I, for one, have grown somewhat grittier with the passage of time.  A lot can happen between the age of twenty-seven and forty-seven.  Most of us become more conscientious, confident, caring and calmer with life experience.

Unfortunately, a lot of the disappointments, the loss of loved ones and family issues that have put a large amount of strain on me and my family has in some way made me grittier and more philosophical as I approach my late forties.

My children look to me for advice and guidance, as I looked to my father and occasionally still seek guidance from my mother.  If my son and daughter cannot seek advice from me on how I may have overcome a similar hurdle, whether it is with a particular class they are taking or, more often, dealing with another student or colleague, then what good does it do anybody?

I know and you know that these problems too shall pass.  However, when someone is giving you a hard time with something, how can you preach grit, determination and perseverance if you do not pursue those same ideals yourself?

As we age, we are thrust into new situations like my current work situation where I was recently transferred to a different department with a young, inexperienced and aggressive boss and where things are done completely differently from my prior department.  It has caused me quite a great deal of anxiety, which I am coping with in several ways, one of which is to become grittier.

For that reason, I hope that I have inherited the “Grit Gene” from my paternal line of hard-working, determined middle class Jewish men and can pass it along to my own progeny.

When the Going Gets Tough…

When things are not going your way, like they have not been going for me at work lately, you always have two choices when things begin to get tough: you can either overcome an obstacle and grow in the process or let it beat you.

Middle aged middle class guys like you and me are creatures of habit. If we quit when things get tough, it gets that much easier to quit the next time. On the flip side, if we can force ourselves to continue pushing through it, like I have been striving to do on a daily basis since my unexpected transfer to a different department this past July, the grit begins to increase.

Don’t Get Too Emotional

Negative emotions will challenge our efforts to become grittier every step of the way. While it’s impossible not to feel our emotions, it remains completely under our power to manage them effectively and to keep ourselves in a position of control.

If we allow our emotions to hinder our ability to think clearly, it becomes easy to lose our willpower. Although I have woken up in less than a good mood most days this week, I realize that a bad mood can lead me astray from my chosen direction and deter me from accomplishing what I want to.

Once we know the causes of our negative emotions, we must begin looking for healthy ways to manage stress.  Avoid stressful situations if you can, and if you can’t (like me), work on taking control of your feelings. The better we work at managing our emotions in the long run, the better a handle we’ll have on how you react to whatever hurdles come our way.

It’s not about completely suppressing our emotions, it’s about monitoring them.  The truly mentally tough “monitor their emotions throughout the day and recognize how their feelings influence their thoughts and behaviors. They know sometimes reaching their greatest potential requires them to behave contrary to how they feel,” according to mental strength expert Amy Morin.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

The fear of failure has stopped me from trying something many, many times.

I realize that the fear of failure is not unique to me, but stories abound about individuals who failed time and time again at a project or invention or at starting a business prior to hitting on the right thing for them and then becoming highly successful.

Failure is a part of life. Take enough risks, go on enough adventures, try enough things, and you’ll encounter failure. Those who have showed the grit to succeed have encountered it more than most, but they’ve overcome it and ONLY through determination.

A Gritty Goal

You can read blog posts about grit and determination ’til the cows come home, but this post is not meant to convey everything about that trait.

I recommend Duckworth’s book for a comprehensive analysis of who, what, why and how grit comes about.

The most uplifting thing in my study of becoming grittier is just that, that we can grow our grit.  You and I can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice.  We can connect our work to a purpose beyond ourselves.

I can do that on a daily basis at work, since my job primarily entails implementing programs to assist business owners and entrepreneurs in a single suburban community.  All day every day I am in contact with people seeking information, guidance and recommendations from me and what I say can have a major impact on their future endeavors.

I could easily go to work tomorrow and help five people before lunchtime if I so choose, and that is just doing my job.

What I am seeking to do is grow my grit from the inside, from my own reading, thinking and writing about it.  Nobody has told me that I should become grittier or need to improve myself.  It is something that is painfully obvious to me from the time that I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep every night.  I do not think about it all day, but I certainly do think about self-improvement including becoming grittier a large percentage of the time.

Another way to grow our grit is “from the outside in” according to Duckworth.  Parents, teachers, coaches, friends, bosses and mentors can help you.  This is not so much the case with me at this point in time.  My former boss, who I was blessed to have for twelve years from May 2005 through June of this year helped me grow my grit immensely.  I survived many a difficult situation at work by seeking out and then heeding his advice.

My father passed away five years ago last month and was the primary person who taught me the value of grit in my life, although he used other words for it like perseverance, determination and stubbornness.

I am blessed to have had a great father for forty-one years, although it was really forty years since he was unable to act in his normal capacity for the final year of his life.  I also realize that I am blessed to have had a great boss for twelve years.  Many people go their entire careers without a great boss.  I certainly do not have a great boss at present.

I no longer have any mentors, teachers, coaches at all and my few friends mostly advise me to loosen up a bit and not be so uptight about everything.  Not exactly helping me become grittier; they think that I am too gritty already!

No, growing grittier is entirely “on me,” but my goal of becoming grittier is a little bit on you, too.  For one, you have read this post this far so you must have some measure of interest in the topic.  Secondly, although it is hard to quantify and measure as I wrote, gaining grittiness will be one of my many goals and Resolutions for 2018.

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I will take the Grit Scale quiz again at the close of 2018 and will answer the questions honestly again as I just did.

If and when I succeed at accomplishing a high percentage of my New Years Resolutions, I will allow myself some small measure of satisfaction and will (maybe) score a fraction of a point higher.

Only time will tell.


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