Grit: The Missing Ingredient to an Awesome Life


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas Edison

I was recently invited to participate in The Most Marketable Skills campaign by Bob Clary, the Community Manager at Webucator. This is my belated reply to his invitation…

The Most Marketable Skill

What drove Ted Geisel to endure the rejection of 27 publishers, and still get up the next day and send a manuscript to the 28th under the pen name, Dr. Seuss?

What pushed Bethany Hamilton back into the ocean to win a surfing championship just two years after getting her arm ripped off by a shark?

What made Franklin–a partially paralyzed man in a wheelchair–believe he could become President of the United States during the Great Depression?

What caused a molested runaway, who got pregnant at 14 and lost her baby shortly after giving birth, to rise above such unspectacular beginnings to become one of the richest, most influential figures in the world, whose iconic name, Oprah, is one of the most recognized names on the planet?

The Essential Life Skill

The most important quality a person can develop as they head out into the job market full of hope, ambition and visions of grandeur, where they will meet an inevitable and sobering barrage of obstacles, setbacks and challenges, is what separates the doers from the wishers.

That quality is grit.

By grit, I’m referring to the inner moxie, the courage, resolve, determination and unflinching willingness to do whatever it takes to get whatever needs doing done. It is the strength of character not only to refuse to be intimidated by the mountains of life, but to actually climb the things no matter how difficult the going or how long it takes.

How many dreams have been still-born by a single rejection letter or a bad interview or a critical boss (friend, parent or spouse)? How many dreams have never even been inseminated by the fertilizing agent of action because of self-doubt or the lack of conviction or the pull of the status quo or just plain laziness?

Human grit is the internal stuff that pushes us past the hurt, the fear, the doubt, the pain of rejection and failure and all the personal obstacles of our own or others’ making when things don’t go as smoothly or quickly as we planned.

Grit gets us to show up to the next interview, send our manuscript to the 27th publisher, start our 6th business, sit across the desk of the interviewer and turn the tables so that the interviewer becomes the interviewed, an exploration of whether you want to work for them.

Grit picks us up after the fall. It pushes us forward after we’ve stumbled. It compels us to take the next step, to sacrifice the current moment for a lifetime of future better moments.

It dives us head-first into our passion, into the deep waters of uncertainty to fulfill the dream that calls us into ever deepening waters, where we can no longer touch bottom or see the shore, where icy currents test our resolve and the waves of anxiety beat on us relentlessly.

When others give up and give in, those with grit keep at it, unwilling to let the odds or fear or the prophesies of naysayers dissuade them from what they are determined to accomplish.

Where one person’s failure sends him back to the path of least resistance, another person’s failure inspires her to learn from her mistakes, to get up and go at it again, more determined than before to succeed.

The path to mediocrity is not so much lined with failed dreams as it is littered with the carcasses of discarded dreams, dreams that have been prematurely buried along the way, still alive, but choked out by neglect.

I believe the missing ingredient in the heart of the person who sits on life’s curb and kicks at the pebbles in the dirt is grit. The person who spends hours on Facebook instead of hours sending out resumes, building a business, improving a website, honing a skill, writing a book, completing a project, making the phone calls is missing that essential quality.

The difference between dreaming of success and succeeding is often only the grit necessary to do something about the passion that merely sleeps in the hearts of those without it or of those who walk away from their dreams when the going gets rocky.

But how do you develop an essential quality that is currently underdeveloped?

3 Ways to Grow Your Inner Grit

1. Feed the Hunger

People who accomplish and succeed in life are people with eyes glued to the prize. They hunger so much for the thing they want to create (whether a thriving business, a loving family, growing community of like-minded advocates, or an inner life of personal meaning and bedrock happiness) that they let very little stand in their way.

This, however, is not a call to ignore other responsibilities in the pursuit of your dreams and goals. It simply means that they are willing to sacrifice other less important plans to their passion.

The more passionate you are about the process (not just the end result), the more likely you will stick with it through all the tedium, monotony, obstacles and doubts.

There are essentially two ways to feed your passion: (1) Find the burning WHY in what you already do. Discover what’s meaningful, the purpose for which you are already engaged in what you do. Or (2) start creating pockets of time to start doing what you love until you can do it full-time.

2. Do What Gritty People Do

The best way to develop grit is to imagine what someone would do who already has it, then do that.

It’s really no different than developing any other skill: Find people who do it well—experts, gurus, masters, those who actually demonstrate (not just talk about) what you want to learn. Read their books. Follow their blogs. Subscribe to their email lists. Attend their conferences, summits and training.

Then figure out how what they did can apply to what you do and actually do what so many well-informed people don’t: Apply what you learn. Apply it over and over again until it becomes a habitual part of who you are.

As you explore the lives and successes of grit-filled doers in the area of your specific passion, imagine what they would do when confronted with the obstacles you regularly bump into. And as long as they don’t violate your values, do the same.

3. Take Baby Steps

All of life is lived one day at a time. And each day is lived moment by moment. Habits and attitudes are formed one act and one decision at a time as well. If your life lacks the necessary grit, then evaluate where you are, and take one gritty step. That’s all.

As you are able to confidently act with grit in that one isolated area of your life, you’ll be ready to take the next step. Then, one step at a time, you will find your life increasingly grit-driven and your obstacle less likely to derail you.

Final Thoughts

Life is challenging. And the job market can be a scary part of it, especially if you’re trying to see clearly into the fog of the economic malaise that seems to permeate the current job market.

But with just a little grit, the screwed up interview becomes a valuable lesson learned. Missteps in business become opportunities to reevaluate and redirect. And professional stumbles become the motivation to recommit and refocus as we work our way to professional fulfillment.

Imagine a career without grit, without that driven determination and courageous will to succeed. Such a career would be peppered with surrender, passive acceptance, detours, time-outs, delays, indecision, regret, stagnation, interminable waiting, missed opportunities and ultimate failure.

But with it, there is no such thing as failure–just another challenge to be wrestled with, learned from, and inspired by.

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