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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exercises for Grit: When Are You at Your Best?

Last week I did not write a blog post. You may ask why not, and I would tell you if I remembered. Something came up. Or went down. Something got in the way, directionally speaking. Or, perhaps I was just too tired. As I recall, the first part of the week was taken up with back to school shopping. There was rain involved. The rain led to me leaving the car’s lights on while in the mall, and returning to discover the battery had died. Again. I must have the last car without automatic lights in the entire United States. 

Fortunately, because I have been meditating regularly, or perhaps just because I’m more chill in my 50s, I did not get into a snit. I simply called AAA, and the 10th grader and I repaired to the Happy Cappuccino to wait. I will admit to feeling some dismay, and to having some level of willpower sapped by the previous hour spent pawing through racks of teenagers’ clothing, as evidenced by the gigantic chocolate chocolate chip muffin I devoured with the daughter. 

Because of the meditation, let us note, I was aware of what I was doing. Id est: comforting myself with food. Which worked. Success!

Today started out as one of those days, too. You know the days. You have your plan, and then the dog’s eye is oozing. Now you know your plan to write your blog post is going to go out the proverbial window because you have to take the dog to the vet. This story has a happy ending, though, so buckle up. Now, since this was the dog’s oozing eye and not my child’s, I went ahead to the gym. 

I know, I'm a mean dog mommy. The dog was acting just fine, people. If he had not been, this would have been a different story. 

When I got back, I checked the eye. Still oozing. But there was a little, half-inch long small, thin, twig-like thing on the dog’s face, under his eye. Near the ooze. So I removed the twigish thing and washed the area with a little water and applied a smidge of antibiotic ointment. Then I let a few hours pass and worked on my writing. Hours later, no ooze! And so I have a blog post for you this week.
Milo wants to get grit, too.

Now, over the weekend, I had the house to myself — PARTY! The husband was visiting his mother for her birthday, and the 10th grader was away for an orchestra retreat and needed to be picked up at a particular time on Sunday. Anyway, Friday night, I had my friend and neighbor E over. And we got to talking. She was feeling a bit down and directionless, as I mentioned. I, being a pill, started talking about Getting Grit, by Caroline Adams Miller (CAM).

So the subtitle of Getting Grit is “The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose.” I went down one of those rabbit holes called philosophic introspection about the term “evidence-based approach,” but let’s not go there. It’s the three P’s I’m getting at. Perseverance, Passion, and Purpose. CAM’s definition of grit contains all three.

Perseverance we can all understand. Grit and its synonyms imply perseverance. Hanging on. But CAM doesn’t want us to hang on just for the sake of hanging on. Sometimes, in fact, we might need to quit. There are negative types of grit, she says. Among them are Stubborn Grit, the kind of grit that gets you up Mount Everest even if you’re not that well-prepared and costs the lives of Sherpas, and Faux Grit, claiming to have grit when actually you cheat, for having which she calls out Lance Armstrong (drugs and lies) and Donald Trump (lies and lies).

But we’re interested in authentic grit, and Authentic Grit has those three P’s. So, in the pursuit of grit, it’s important, says CAM, to identify and develop them. She has some writing exercises to help identify passions and purpose. I being a writer, and also a self-improvement junkie, read them over. The first is to write about when you are at your best. As in, describe “a time when all of your top five strengths were used in a transformational moment or a time in your life when you were ‘at your best.’” 


Readers, I read this instruction and went blank. Totally. Even though I had taken not one, not two, but three VIA quizzes to determine my top strengths. I just had no idea. Have I EVER used my top strengths all together in a transformational moment? 

Fortunately--or actually, as you will see, unfortunately-- I did have an opportunity to use some strengths recently. I wasn’t going to write about this, but then the other night, as I said, I was hanging out with my friend and neighbor, E, having some prosecco. And she was sounding a little down and blah about life and so I was telling her about these exercises to develop purpose and passion and I described the one I just described for you. And you know what? E had the exact same reaction to that prompt that I did. Or at least in essence. I think her exact reaction was to flop backwards on the couch and say, “My god. I have NO idea.” 

Her reaction made me feel better about my reaction, but also I wanted to make us feel better so I described the second exercise, which is definitely more appealing. I was going to say easier, but really, it’s not easy. It is more appealing though. And it is to write about your best possible self. You spend 20 minutes a day for three days writing about “life ten years from now as if everything has gone as well as possible.” There are lots of questions you can consider to write this answer. And of course, the point of it is not empty daydreaming. The point is not to be Walter Mitty. The point is to stimulate your imagination and rev up your sense of passion. AND THEN you have to use mental contrasting to set goals now to achieve the things you want ten years from now. You know, develop your purpose. So, all in all, not easy. Grit required. 

But anyway, we did not engage in that exercise. We had another glass of prosecco, and then E told me she was a little disappointed not to read in my blog about what happened to her a couple of weeks ago. 

As I said, I was not going to mention it, but since she brought it up, I am now. I hate for E to be disappointed, after all. 

This post is getting so long. If I were Charles Dickens, I would sign off now, with a cliffhanger that you would have to tune into next week the resolution of which to discover. (That was an awkward sentence, wasn’t it? It is grammatical, though.)
No ooze!

Anyway, what happened is that the afternoon of the eclipse, I got a phone call from my friend and neighbor E. She started out sounding fine. “I need to ask a favor of you,” she said. She said she had been stung by a wasp a few minutes ago. “And I’m kind of itchy,” she said. “And I’m starting to feel…….” At which point her voice went funny. And I said, “OHMYGODI’LLBERIGHTTHERE!” Apparently, I yelled to the soon-to-be 10th grader that E sounded weird, and I stopped by my bag, grabbed my epipen (generic brand*) and ran across the street. Her front door was open and I ran right in and found her on the kitchen floor, her daughter beside her. E was woozy and bleeding under her lip. She looked grey, except for the hives on her body. Of course my instinct was to remain as calm as humanly possible because her daughter was right there, but I was freaking out. E was conscious, and she struggled to sit up when I came in. I wasn’t sure if I should use the epipen or not, but I decided it was better to use it (was told by paramedics that was the right thing to do, FYI). In fact, I have never used it, even though I carry it because I am allergic to bee stings.

Now, for a middle-aged person to try to read the directions on a small object she is holding in her hands when her hands are shaking like egg beaters is quite the challenge, but I managed to get all of the caps and safeties and whatnot off the dang thing and then put it against her thigh, as trained by my allergist, and pressed on the proper end and heard the click as the needle extended. And then I had her daughter call 911 and give the phone to me. And then we made sure E lay back down and got an icepack for her cut and a pillow for her head and I answered the dispatcher’s questions and flagged down the ambulance and took notes for the EMTs and reassured her daughter she would be fine and helped collect her things to take to the hospital and so forth. Everything turned out fine, and now E has her own epinephrine injector. 

That was then, and now here was E on my couch, drinking prosecco with me. I could easily have not been home when she called that afternoon. I could easily not have thought to bring my epipen. However, I was and I did. Furthermore, I managed to respond with clarity appropriately in an emergency. I may have saved a life. So I have to say, it did occur to me that perhaps that disaster was a transformational moment when I was at my best, even though perhaps I would like my best not to include as much adrenaline, terror, and peril as it did. 

* When I called my doctor a couple of days later to get a new prescription for an epinephrine injector, I told the nurse that the generic had been really hard to use, and I requested the name brand Epipen. I’m pretty sure that’s what led to the insurer to cover it. I spoke up about the difficulty I had using the generic. I have the new Epipen now, and I’ve made sure the husband and the tenth grader know how to use it.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Authentic Grit and How to Get It

It feels important to let you know that the other day I spent quite a bit of time picking burrs out of the dog’s butt. That was my reward for taking him on a walk in nature as opposed to along the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood. 

After I picked out the burrs, I deposited them in the trashcan in the study. Later, I discovered the dog, Milo, investigating that selfsame trashcan. “Get out,” I told him. He obeyed my command with an attitude similar to one I have seen from my children when told to do something they are not that excited to do. Like empty the dishwasher or remove their socks from the kitchen counter. 
Socks and ukulele on the counter, what else?

A few hours later, I noticed his muzzle fur had a funny whorl. He gets those sometimes when he sleeps in his cushy dog bed. A few hours after that, I said, “Milo, what’s with the whorl?” And I went over to him and felt it. What did I discover there?

I know you’re all quick, Readers, so you know the answer already. Those burrs. The ones I had painstakingly removed from his butt. Yes, they were now in his muzzle. 

Life feels like that sometimes. I have to admit it. It’s not always a forward progression. Sometimes it’s circular. 

This simple anecdote should suffice to convey the tenor of my week. It was one of those weeks when thing after thing happens that makes me feel like I’m barely above water. One of those weeks that throws me off track in my personal pursuits. 

That is why grit comes in handy. 

I finished Caroline Adams Miller’s book, Getting Grit. Now I know how to build grit. "Building grit" is an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, grit is what remains after rock has worn down. Grit is what’s left. Grit is sand. (See last week’s post.) I think we can all agree that grit is good. It helps us keep on treading water when the side view mirror needs to be replaced because someone who shall remain nameless, one of the three drivers in the family, knocked it beyond askew; when the other car goes in for regular maintenance and comes out with a definitely unnatural knocking sound that turns out to be a broken bolt in the brakes; when the dryer breaks, and so on. "So on" in this case means I forgot to mention that when we returned from the beach, we blithely drove into our garage, forgetting that there was a large luggage container on the roof of the car and damaging the garage. 

And there was more in the last week, but I was letting the dog’s muzzle whorl stand in for it all. That went well, didn't it? 

Anyway. There’s grit and there’s grit. The kind we want, Readers, is “authentic grit.” Authentic Grit is not the same as persevering at all cost. Authentic grit is “the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awes and inspires others to become better people, flourish emotionally, take positive risks, and live their best lives.” Grit is positive, she says, only if it is a force for good. 

Welp. I feel cowed. That is a tall order. Especially when so often my life is about burrs in muzzles. Metaphorically and literally. Nevertheless, I persist. 


So. How to develop authentic grit? Well, developing grit depends on, as CAM says, “experimenting with” the several qualities she mentions in part two, working on each of them. These are the ingredients of what she calls the “Grit Cake.” And working with each of the ingredients, over time, will help us evolve “from a cook who masters one behavior at a time to a master chef who blends them all.”  

So, here they are:

  • Passion. As in, identify your passion, or even better, two of 'em, because they help give you energy and purpose.
  • Happiness. Work on upping that because happy people are better at maintaining the other qualities that grit requires. Also, being happy feels good.
  • Goal Setting. Challenging but not unrealistic goals, people. We've been over this.
  • Self-Regulation. Resist the marshmallow!
  • Risk-Taking. This does not have to be harrowing, but taking risks feels exhilarating. And when you survive, you get a big confidence boost. 
  • Humility. Benjamin Franklin added this to his list of virtues after a friend or two told him he was a little too full of himself. 
  • Perseverance. Goes without saying, doesn't it? Gotta keep on keeping on. 
  • Patience. Achieving goals takes time and maintaining focus and energy over time takes patience. 

Of course all of these qualities are multi-faceted. Each is a lifetime’s pursuit on its own. For example, passion. Developing passion sounds easy. But there’s passion and there’s passion. Passion can be obsessive (not so healthy) or harmonious (healthy), and managing that can take skill. And passion can be challenging to identify, if you’ve spend a lot time taking care of others’ needs at the expense of your own. Or happiness. There’s a broad subject full of complexity. For this reason, CAM suggests starting with one quality you think you most need help building and work from there. 

The good news is, focusing on these things is synonymous with living a really full and fulfilling life. Developing passion and directing it towards a goal, challenging yourself by taking risks, building happiness and self-control, and learning to play the long game are all about, as the almost 10th grader likes to say, “living your best life.” She says it ironically, but never mind. I am not being ironic. Sometimes it is important to be earnest.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Getting Grit

Yesterday I went to Pilates at the gym. When I returned home, I washed my face as usual with witch hazel on a round cotton pad. These cotton rounds are from France, by the way, which makes them extra special, and they have one side that’s a little rough. This is probably for exfoliation. I am assuming so, after much time wasted on articles on skin care over my now rather lengthy lifetime. There’s no explanation on the packaging. This is because all French people are born knowing about exfoliation. 

That last statement was a generalization and a stereotyping and it was BAD because stereotyping people is BAD. The stereotype is that all French people know more about beauty and style than everyone else, which you know, because it’s a stereotype. But it was also funny. And it’s a thing we tend to do: group people by identifying characteristics. So that’s a thing that’s problematic. (I’m with you, Tina, even if I cringed a little at your recent “sheetcaking” rant.) 

Anyway, as I was wiping witch hazel across my face with the exfoliating side, I noticed that the exfoliation seemed much deeper, stronger, and more pronounced than usual. It felt pretty good, and as if it might actually leave me with younger, glowier skin (always a plus). After a moment, I leaned into the mirror and rubbed my fingers over my face. I discovered it was covered in sand. I had grit.

Because I was at the beach, Readers. And so was my yoga mat. Not that it got much use. Or any, come to think of it. But it was there, and it was often covered in sand because it was at the bottom of the pile of beach chairs and boogie boards and towels in the back of the car. So when I finally unrolled my mat at the gym yesterday, I realized I had brought a little bit of the beach home with me. I had gotten grit. 

Did you miss me? I missed you, I promise. However, I was too busy boogie boarding and reapplying sunscreen (young and glowy, remember that’s the goal) and often shivering since the weather wasn’t as warm as it could have been to write. 

Wow, I was wondering how that sandy face thing related to this topic and here it is. Grit. I got it. So much of it. All over my face and body. I was just covered in grit, which seems like a good segue-way. I have been reading up on grit. 

Right off, I must ‘fess up that I haven’t worked on my book in two weeks. And when I get away from my writing, I begin to question if I can ever get back to it. This leads me into doubt about my project, doubt about my ability, and also doubt about my willpower, as well as into frustration with myself for letting time expand so freely. 

Anyway. Grit. Perhaps I don’t have as much as I thought, I thought, and I sat down to read Getting Grit by Caroline Adams Miller, which is exactly as advertised, a book about taking Angela Duckworth’s research on grit and success to the masses and helping us get more of it. It’s well-written and well-organized, and she works in the research and terminology in an organic way, so the reader learns new terms and what they mean in context and it all slides down nice and easy. 

There I am reading along her outline of her program to help readers develop grit and I am thinking I do have a lot of grit. I do need to finish the book, though, because apparently there is good grit (authentic) and not-so good grit. Knowing me, I have the not-so-good kind. I haven’t gotten to what that is yet, but if it has anything to do with a persistence in self-flagellation and a floundering in the quicksand of self-criticism and self-doubt, then, yep, I’ve got it. 

I had this little moment while reading about Caroline’s coaching. This little voice in my head whispered, “When the student is ready….” and the joke Anne Lamott tells about the guy whose plane crashes in the dessert and he prays to God to save him. Then a guy with a camel comes by and asks if he needs help and the pilot dude says, “No, I’m waiting for God.” and another person comes by and offers help. Same answer. Until somehow the guy is in communication with God herself and complains, “I prayed and prayed but you never answered my prayers.” And God says, “What are you talking about? I sent you the guy with the camel and the other guy. “

So I’m thinking, maybe Caroline Adams Miller is my guy with a camel. So that’s good. And guess what? There’s another quiz! Everyone likes a quiz. 

Caroline Adams Miller recommends the Values in Action Character Strength Assessment (VIA).* So I go to the website and I take the quiz which has 120 questions. I get my assessment, which lists about 20 qualities and highlights your top 5. I get mine, and they are as follows:



love of learning



That’s 6, not 5, but zest and perseverance were tied. As were fairness, humor, and love of learning. So why didn’t they give me a top 8? But whatever?

I have to admit this list disappointed me. I mean, creativity was near the bottom, which seems crazy. Also, spirituality was absolute lowest, and yet I meditate daily. Furthermore, I liked Caroline’s strengths better. She mentions them in the book. Love, creativity, zest, bravery, and wisdom. I liked those. And I like to think I have some wisdom. At least a little. 

So I obsessed about that for a little while. Then I inspected my results again. I saw that wisdom was not even listed on the chart of the quiz I took. It wasn’t one of the qualities. Was that because the test is slightly different than the one Caroline took? Or am I so lacking in wisdom it wasn’t even in my top 20????

Then, what was this judgment thing I was doing? As in, judging my results? As in, assuming some results are “better” than others. What was that about? 

I’ll tell you what: In the book, Caroline Adams Miller mentions that several character traits “among the ones that I know will be important for grit are self-regulation, sense of purpose, hope, zest, humility, and bravery.” And I have one of them in my top five. ONE. And one of those top qualities she lists isn’t even on my LIST.

So the LIST must be different from hers. And I didn’t have ACCESS to that one. Which meant I could spend some time on the Interwebs searching for the same list she had, or I could go and work on my book. And which do you think I did? 

Neither, Readers. Instead, I take the test again. This time I manage my answers so as to score much higher in creativity, but still no wisdom (not there) and no sense of purpose (not there) and no humility, bravery, nor self-regulation. 

Things were not looking so good for my grit level at this point, which was in contrast to the Duckworth Grit Scale, by the way, on which I scored pretty high. Go figure. 

I was not finished with this character survey stuff. So, after some additional moments of research, I discovered that UPenn, home of Positive Psychology, has a website with TONS of quizzes.** There’s a place to register and you can take bazillions. I found a different version of the VIA. It was longer, with 240 questions rather than 120. That seemed promising, so I took it.

According to the UPENN Authentic Happiness quiz, my top character strengths are as follows:

Fairness, equity, and justice 

Curiosity and interest in the world 

Forgiveness and mercy 

Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness 

Kindness and generosity 

So, what to say? I liked this test better. It was longer, and the answers were more discursive. However, these traits were not so different from the results of the other quiz. Zest was missing, and that was one of the qualities that appealed. Still no wisdom, bravery, or self-regulation and those other things that are key to grit, but they are not bad. 

Let us remember that this quiz is about strengths, so none of the characteristics is bad. I realize I am talking to myself here, but it seems like a good thing to remember. Sort of a straighting of the cap to remind myself this is not about finding out I am lacking important qualities. It’s about assessing my strengths and then using them productively. To grow my dang grit. That’s the message from Caroline Adams Miller’s book: you can increase your grit and she will tell you how. And I will tell you how after I finish the book. I got a little side-tracked. At least I demonstrated a couple of my character strengths in pursuit of identifying them. And I am happy to offer you, Readers, a couple of places for you to assess —or obsess—over your top five character strengths. 

Remember to exfoliate. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Center Yourself

Readers, I have to admit I'm a little shakey. Lots of logistics wobbling me. Packing for vacation, the logistics of picking up the rising 10th grader from camp, then meeting the college student outside Boston, then journeying to our beach rental. All that kind of thing on top of the general, you know, situation with our Commander in Chief. It seems like a good day to reiterate one of the planks of my scaffolding of success: centering

As in, remember what’s in your control and what’s not. As in, pack your bathing suits and stop refreshing Twitter to see if a bomb has gone off. As in, center yourself within your Stephen Covey circle of influence and work from there. 

Don’t buy it? Well, if you don’t take my word for it - “it” being “the importance of having some kind of centering practice”— take Joseph Campbell’s. This is from an interview with Bill Moyers about the universal myth he derived based on his study of world religions. This universal myth he called the monomyth, because he found it embedded in religions everywhere. From this myth he extrapolated his famous description of the The Hero’s Journey. That is the monomyth. Here’s the passage: 

BILL MOYERS: In all of these journeys of mythology, there’s a place everyone wishes to find. What is it? The Buddhists talk of nirvana; Jesus talks of peace. There’s a place of rest and repose. Is that typical of the hero’s journey, that there’s a place to find?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s a place in yourself of rest. Now this I know a little bit about from athletics. The athlete who is in championship form has a quiet place in himself. And it’s out of that that his action comes. If he’s all in the action field, he’s not performing properly. There’s a center out of which you act. And Jean, my wife, a dancer, tells me that in dance this is true, too, there’s the center that has to be known and held. There it’s quite physically recognized by the person. But unless this center has been found, you’re torn apart, tension comes. Now, the Buddha’s word is nirvana; nirvana is a psychological slate of mind. It’s not a place, like heaven, it’s not something that’s not here; it is here, in the middle of the turmoil, what’s called samsara, the whirlpool of life conditions. That nirvana is what, is the condition that comes when you are not compelled by desire or by fear, or by social commitments, when you hold your center and act out of there.

If Joseph Campbell says centering is important, then it is. See, the thing about The Hero's Journey, is that it's an analogy for the human journey, affectionately known as LIFE. So, how to do it? For me, it’s meditation. For you it could be something else. Deep breathing. Prayer. Running. Taking a walk. Baking. Baking's good.  

Recently I was talking to a friend who meditates sometimes. He said he hadn’t been meditating recently because where his meditation class met moved due to building renovations. After he said that, he paused. Then he said, “You know? That’s not the real reason. I could find the class. I probably should find the class.” The real reason, he said, was that after going there for a while he began to recognize people. Specifically, he saw coworkers. Specifically, a couple coworkers with whom he had conflicts. I could see how that would be weird. But, he said, the thing was that after meditation one day, he talked to one of those people and they worked things out. He thought that because he had it in his mind that she meditated, and she had it in hers that he did, too, they were able to de-escalate and resolve the conflict. 

He paused again and then said, “I guess that means it works.” 

Maybe it does. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Grit, Grittier 2

So, Readers, are we clear on what grit is? I’ve heard from a lot of people—meaning at least three—who want to know how to get grit. Well, before we try to accumulate it, we’d better define it. 

Grit is what you think it is: tenacity. But this new definition of grit adds the element of passion. So grit is perseverance in pursuit of something of intrinsic interest to you over a long period. That last bit about persevering for a long time is key. It’s not that you have to be single-minded or workaholic in this pursuit; however, your interest must remain over months, years, even a lifetime. That’s grit. 

Now, why is it important? “This book has been about the power of grit to help you achieve your potential,” says Duckworth in her conclusion. That’s why. I want to achieve my potential. I sure do. And I don’t think I have, yet. And there are a lot of people out there who want to, who haven’t yet. 

Next, we need to know that grit grows. It's not a fixed entity. Duckworth says so. Grit grows in two ways, “inside out” and “outside in.” Duckworth draws her conclusions from anecdotal evidence, interviews of people who “epitomize the qualities of passion and perseverance.” So take it for what it’s worth. She concludes there are four aids in developing grit inside-out. 

Interest - She interchanges this term with passion, and she seems to mean intrinsic motivation.

Practice - This is a form of perseverance that involves “challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery.” This sounds a lot like Carol Dweck’s growth mindset at work. The growth mindset is one that believes improvement by practice is possible. And it's about goal-setting. I've talked about this before. A healthy goal is one that is challenging by not too hard, something that makes you push yourself to achieve.

Purpose—Having a sense that what you’re doing is “both personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the well-being of others.” Now, I struggle with this one. I think many artists might. How useful or important to others is any creative work? It takes an internal mastery of self-doubt to see that creative endeavors have utility beyond the expression of one individual’s ideas. For me, self-doubt often overshadows that knowledge. It’s easier to be part of a sanctioned socially useful structure, such as teaching or public service, than to feel like you’re “ringing your own bell” by writing a novel, or, just as an example, a book about your struggles to find success. However, when self-doubt doesn't blot out everything else, I can see that others may find my thoughts useful. Perhaps as a cautionary tale. Perhaps as comfort. Smallest perhaps: as inspiration. 

Hope—This is another kind of perseverance, the ability to keep going “even when things are difficult, even when we have doubts.” So many things have been written about hope. It's a thing with feathers. It's eternally springy. It's a paradox (ever waiting, ever expecting, sadly never actually attaining). It's optimism. 

Duckworth calls these internal grit growers assets. She owns her debt to Carol Dweck in the book, and she builds on it here by telling us that these internal assets are not fixed. Like intelligence, compassion, and maturity, they are qualities that can develop over time. 

What about the outside-in approach to growing grit? (“Growing grit”—What an annoying phrase). I hear you asking, Readers. Well, in short, it’s about developing those aforementioned assets within a gritty culture and with the help of others. 

I’m liking this, because it aligns with what I’ve discovered about success, that it depends in part on input from like-minded others. Coaches, parents, and peers all help nurture, inspire, and challenge us in these areas. 

Does constant growth and effort seem exhausting? Do you think you would rather take a nap? Would you prefer to watch all nine seasons of The Office on Netflix? Well, take heart, because according to Duckworth, gritty people have more life satisfaction. So it’s worth it to develop those assets. And remember, persisting with passion—a.k.a. being gritty—does not preclude bouts of binge-watching TV. Not that Duckworth says so, but I extrapolate from the evidence.

Now, how exactly to grow grit? How do you really build those assets? Tune in next time, when I talk about Caroline Adams Miller’s book Getting Grit, in which she takes all this info to the next stage and talks specifically about how to become gritty. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grit, Grittier
Well, Readers, I have been adrift from the blog, and the blog has drifted from my subject, success, over the last several weeks. Perhaps you are thinking, “Weeks? Try months! Months? Try years!” It is true, this blog is sometimes only related to success in the most tangential way. I like to think I exhibit some ingenuity in those linkages, and that keeps you all on at least a loose tether and interested in what on earth Hope is going to say next. 

Some of you like it when I tell stories from my life. (Hi, Dad!) Because then you know what is going on in my life. Some of you like it when I get into some tips for success and living well. So as the old saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time. 

But you can sure hope they’ll keep reading. 

Because I keep on writing. I persevere. I persist. I exhibit grit. And grit is what I want to talk about. In fact, I have to apologize to you, Readers, because Grit, by Angela Duckworth, happens to be one of the more intriguing and helpful books on success I have read. Along with Mindset by Carol Dweck it has been among the most influential. Yet, in going over my blog, I can’t find any posts on the topic. Perhaps I wrote one and forgot, but perhaps I just overlooked it, as one overlooks something familiar and integral, such as the family dog. Until you trip over him. Or he demands your attention by sticking his nose into your hand. 

What is grit? Is grit muscling through weekend traffic on 495 and 95 to and from visiting your rising 10th grader at her theater camp's performance day? Is it sitting through four musicals and plays in one day, sitting, let me just add, first outside on wooden planks, then inside on theater seats, then outside in the amphitheater on split logs that are trying to pitch you down a hillside, then inside in the theater, and finally on the floor on a sleeping bag that might be infested with fleas?

Sadly, no, that is not grit. Although there was plenty of grit around. But this is a different kind of grit.  Did you ever read that book, True Grit? They made a movie out of it in 1969, starring John Wayne and Kim Darby. And the Coen brothers remade it in 2010 with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Well, True Grit is about pursuing a goal with single minded passion and going through a lot to reach it. It, in the story, is the girl’s father. 

Well, Duckworth came to study grit from an interest in achievement. She was a student of famous psychologist Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, and she was trying to figure out how talent, skill, effort, achievement, and success were all linked. She noticed, through her own and others’ research and experience that talent alone was not enough to succeed. A person needs skill, in addition to talent. In fact, she discovered, talent is intertwined with skill. Talent is “how fast we improve in skill.” 

In short, spend a little time with Duckworth, and you’re in the pond with the ducks. By which I mean, she continues the work of Carol Dweck that erodes the myth of the genius born with “natural talent.” Until I read Mindset, which I've written about in several posts, I was one of those people who fetishised the idea of the natural genius. Duckworth’s not saying there aren’t differences in the ability with which we may improve in skill, i.e. differences in talent. However, talent alone doesn’t make for success. In fact, she says, talent, which correlates with, for example, high SAT scores, does not predict success in life when pursuing sustained pursuit of goals. 

So what transforms talent into skill? Duckworth says effort

Talent x Effort = Skill

But in seeking to achieve a challenging goal, skill is not enough, either. Achievement requires effort, too. 

Skill x Effort = Achievement. 

Which means, according to Duckworth, that effort factors into success twice. She says, “If I have the math approximately right, then someone twice as talented but half as hardworking as another person might reach the same level of skill but still produce dramatically less over time. This is because as strivers are improving in skill, they are also employing that skill…..[Then] the striver who equals the person who is a natural in skill by working harder will, in the long run, accomplish more.” (p. 51) 

Grit is “passion and perseverance.” Grit is enjoying “the chase” as well as “the capture.” That is, having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one. That means you believe in your ability to improve. Another indication of grit is the ability to be “satisfied being unsatisfied.” That is, the ability to return to your work, your project, your book, your painting, your research, day after day, knowing that every day you haven’t yet achieved what you wanted, but that every day you are making it a little closer to your goal. 

What makes us work hard over a long period? Passion. I think you could safely call this intrinsic motivation. A growth mindset helps us persevere. And when we persevere with passion over a long period, we exhibit grit. 

So now I’ll bet you all want to know if you have grit. I do. I have grit. Of that I am one thousand percent positive. Which is nice for a change from my usual state of self-doubt. I know from looking at how I live my life. I am a writer. Still. After decades of effort. But I also know because Angela Duckworth has a little quiz in her book, which I took, and yes, I have grit. You can take the quiz here:  

Let me know how gritty you are! 

Don’t be afraid. I feel like this is all good news. Success is largely in our control. We tend to get grittier as we mature. "Grit is growable," says Duckworth.  More on that in a future post. Plus, if all goes well, I will have an interview about this topic to share with you.