Grit & Stick-to-it-iveness

Grit is something that I’ve heard a lot, but not something that I’ve really taken the time to unearth its true meaning. After listening to my fine friends Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann talk bout it on episodes 87 and 88 of their podcast Back to Work, I began to have a better grasp of what this concept really is.

Grit is essentially what makes you do something when you don’t want to do it. It is the descriptive word we use when describing someone who is motivated to see a goal carried out, even when it sucks to be doing so, because the end goal is enough of a motivation to press on through the crap.

Paul Tough Describes this concept vis–à–vis children in his book How Children Succeed. In his interview on an episode of This American Life he discusses the struggle that children have with the traditional ways we measure intelligence and cognitive ability, but is that really giving us a true picture of what children will succeed?

They talk about the focus on cognitive abilities, conventional “book smarts.” They discuss the current emphasis on these kinds of skills in American education, and the emphasis standardized testing, and then turn our attention to a growing body of research that suggests we may be on the verge of a new approach to some of the biggest challenges facing American schools today. Paul discusses how “non-cognitive skills” — qualities like tenacity, resilience, impulse control — are being viewed as increasingly vital in education…

With that in mind, how are we setting up children to succeed in a world that isn’t going to think for them? I fight this same struggle of hearing that life is supposed to be easier, more relaxing, more comfortable, yet anything worth doing is a lot of work and discipline. Anything worth doing requires a level of “stick-to-it-iveness” that many of us (myself included) don’t just have by default. We have to overcome our nature to be successful.

This whole concept begs the question: Can grit be learned or is it merely something you have or you don’t? Discipline is something we look to others and uphold, but how do we measure the potential for that in ourselves?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that whatever it takes to do more than I’m doing with more purpose, I want to be constantly pursuing that.