My parents did many things wrong. (Sorry, mom!) They were the product of their culture and time. I am confident that if they had been of a different era and age, they would have embraced self-reflection, gone to therapy and actually grown-up themselves before having kids and passing along the only thing they knew – that which was given to them. Parenting would have been more mindful and intentional than a factory conveyor belt.
That being said, the best gift my parents instilled in me was grit. (Don’t you love that word? Just saying it aloud makes me happy.) The dictionary defines it as “firmness of character, an indomitable spirit.” Whether my parents intended to or not, this characteristic of sheer staunch doggedness has been both my source of survival and growth.
I know it’s not the sexiest image. It conjures hard work, sweat, tears and backbone. And yet, it’s my most treasured internal resource. It has been my friend through childhood angst, long-distance running, loss, the risk of self-employment, a custody trial from hell and the challenge of raising a teenager with special needs.
But grit is not the whole story. When assaulted by life, I fall. I fall hard. I fucking lie flat in hopelessness, wondering if this time, I won’t get up. But then, with a little time to lick my wounds, say a few choice words, survey the damage, reach out to my tribe of support, find respite in sleep and probably drink more glasses of Cabernet than I care to admit, something clicks in me. My old crony, grit, shows up and yells, “Now what? Get up, girl. You got work to do.” Like snow in a Montana winter, I’ve come to depend on her arrival at the scene of my ordeal-of-the-day. She blows in, my toughness emerges and conquering, I go.
Shortly before my father died suddenly, disappearing from life at the prime age of forty-nine, he scrawled me a note – as he often did. In this particular card, he referenced a current joke between the two of us. “Dear Wimp …” he penned in his distinct handwriting. He jokingly knew that I was not a wimp. That such was not possible in the daughter he raised. Like him, I would be a paragon of perseverance.
Angela Duckworth in her book, “Grit,” researches and documents the value of character tenacity. Through her studies of cadets at West Point, teachers of inner city children, young finalists in the National Spelling Bee and several high achievers in work and sport, she concludes that success is not driven by genius but rather a unique combination of passion and long-term determination. Furthermore, she posits that grit can be grown and instilled in our children.
How gritty are you? Are you engendering its value in the children you’ve been charged to raise?
Talent be damned … it’s what you do with it that matters. I think of that poor, pathetic turtle who was doomed to lose the race to the snappy, braggadocios rabbit. We all know how that story ends.
If the turtle can do it, we can too. One tenacious step at a time. Whether we are climbing out of despair’s pit or rising above mediocrity, the path is the same. The way can only be paved with fortitude, persistence and a whole lot of grit.