The Right Kind of Grit May Not Be What You Think It Is
Our Culture Chat podcasts have sparked so much conversation that we're inviting our podcast interviewees to post a few thoughts following their podcast interview. Here's a follow up to our conversation with Caroline Miller, Author of Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance and Purpose.
Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, is a best seller all over the world. Her definition of grit is “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long term goals.” On the surface that sounds great; however, many people hear that definition and immediately get a quizzical look on their face. It's like, “Well, wasn't Hitler gritty?”
I think that's where I step in. Because what I study is not just grit when it's good, but also what happens when you have too much grit and it is damaging. What happens when you're the person who can't let go of an idea whose time has gone south? What if you're the person who's so obstinate that you don't listen to other people's advice?
Grit for the right reasons in the right context is “authentic grit.” The definition for authentic grit is “the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awes and inspires other people to become better people, flourish emotionally, take positive risks and live their best lives.”
And to me that says it all because the use of grit should never hurt or degrade anybody else. What we're looking for is inspirational performance. We're looking for this quality of making people want to stand up. Whenever we stand up for the national anthem, for somebody pitching a no hitter, or when you see any kind of inspiring performance, you stand up and you notice it. And what it does to us is it makes us want to be better people. That's what we're looking for. I’m focusing on that kind of behavior because there's all kinds of interesting things that happen in the body chemically when we're in the presence of inspirational things. Whether it's the magnificent redwood trees – which are truly incredible - or a sunset, or the Grand Canyon, or around people who have done something so extraordinary with their lives - these are all things that create awe, and I believe the right kind of grit has the same impact on all of us.
One of the types of grit that surrounds us daily is “ordinary grit,” and it’s up to us to find it, salute it and learn from it. What about the person who's been sober for forty years and raised a family, held down and job and sponsored other people to sobriety? That's ordinary grit. That's showing up every day and doing something hard. Quietly, humbly, and leading other people by example.
There's a great story that went viral last year because it was so inspirational and humbling. James Robertson lives just outside Detroit, and he travels 21 miles round-trip – mostly on his feet - every day to get to work, and he has had a perfect attendance record for years. Never missed a day. He’s grateful for his job and doesn’t seek rewards or trophies for what he does. That’s ordinary grit.
First generation students going to college also have ordinary grit. Parents raising special needs children, researchers laboring for years to come up with medical breakthroughs, and people returning to school in middle age to improve their professional opportunities all have ordinary grit. I promise you that we’re surrounded by it. The issue is that we have to notice it and salute it. Because when you do that, you increase the number of positive emotions and moments in your life, and all of those lead to the tipping point where we flourish and thrive.
And that's what helps to create a flourishing workplace. It's not the only piece, but you can't have all this gratitude and praise and using your strengths without also looking at this question: Are people doing hard things? And are they being recognized for doing these authentically hard things, or are workplaces being overrun with two other kinds of grit that are not positive?
If you are out there, trumpeting your own horn, telling people how great you are and how much you’ve done and how valuable you are to the organization, that’s what I call “selfie grit.”
And then there's “faux grit,” which describes people who say they’ve done hard things when they haven’t done anything of the sort. It’s like the people who have the audacity to buy the nation’s highest military honor – The Medal of Honor - at a flea market and then add it to their resume without ever even wearing a military uniform or putting themselves in harm’s way.
Research shows that all of us, at the end of every day, whether we know it or not, scan our days for what we did that was hard that day. The things that we did that were hard are usually outside our comfort zone, that we don't enjoy doing while we're doing them, but those are the things that give us pride and help us build authentic self-esteem. Anybody who wants to have authentic grit has to start with this understanding that you have to do hard things. And I think we've gotten away from that in many, many ways, starting with the playgrounds. Our children go to playgrounds that are so dumbed-down that they can’t get hurt, which has led them to grow up and have phobias and fears around risk-taking. So do hard things every day because it will have a ripple effect on the people around you who will then up their own game, too. It starts with all of us and then goes outward.