Do you have grit? Passion and perseverance for long-term, meaningful goals might mean that you have the “soul of a warrior,” even if that warrior’s biggest dream in life is to have a three-bedroom house and a meaningful career. It doesn’t matter what you want out of life, but if you’re focused on a goal that truly speaks to you—and are willing to do whatever it takes (ethically) to achieve it—you might just have some grit of your own.
How the term ‘grit’ came to mean something unique
According to psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth, “grit” is that unique quality that pushes you through even the biggest obstacles—from training for the Seattle Seahawks to getting through basic training in the military. Duckworth says that having grit refers to the phenomenon where “the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what they wanted.”
If you know what you want out of life and are ready to do what it takes to get it, you probably have some grit—even if you don’t think of it that way. Duckworth created a “grit scale” and test to measure how much grit a given person has (in this case, West Point cadets). It turns out that the higher you score on the grit scale, the more likely you are to succeed in any given endeavor, including military training.
Take the grit test
Wondering how much grit you really have? Duckworth has provided the grit test so you can determine if you, too, have the soul of a warrior. As she notes, there are no right or wrong answers; the grit scale simply measures how likely you are to persevere and accomplish a goal.
Duckworth isn’t the first person to come up with this type of metaphor. Eugene V. Debs, the five-time United States Socialist Party’s Presidential candidate, once wrote an op-ed about the quality of “sand,” which is very much like Duckworth’s description of grit. “There is no quality in human nature more admirable than ‘sand,’” he wrote. “The man who has lots of ‘sand’ is the successful man. No obstacles daunt him, no allurements turn him aside from the path he has marked.”
Debs himself was the epitome of grit (or sand); he participated in the 1894 Pullman Strike, and when arrested, simply ran his union office out of a Woodstock, NY jail. If that doesn’t epitomize the concept of grit, what does?
We all need a little grit in our lives—here’s how to develop it
Having grit is a “growth mindset,” or rather, the phenomenon where people who suffer setbacks see it as an opportunity for learning rather than a permanent state of being. Think of it like oil painting: if you’re disappointed that the first time you pick up a paintbrush, you’re not churning out flawless beauties like Titian or even Bob Ross, that’s understandable. But if you keep going despite your disappointment, you’ve got grit, and you’re ready to grow.
If you don’t have any grit at all, you’re less likely to achieve your goals and more likely to be stuck in unpleasant situations. However, you can develop grit—which takes a little grit in and of itself.
The best way to develop your own grit is to keep going even when you fail. For example, did you get through law school only to fail the Bar exam on the first try? Take it again. (Are you really going to waste all that money in this economy?) Did a literary agent reject your first novel—the one you were so sure was absolutely brilliant? Revise it and try again with another agent. Are you struggling to get through your first CrossFit session? Show up again next week and set the goal that you’ll make it five minutes longer or do three more pushups.
The key to developing your own grit is to remember that one result at one point in time is not the be-all, end-all. Failure isn’t a life sentence, but complacency can be. Make it your goal to ditch the negative self-talk and set small, achievable goals until you make real progress toward the ultimate goal.
Connect with people who uplift you. Remember that setbacks are temporary at worst. And, above all, just keep going.