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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. 

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