No one really likes the word “failure”. Especially not Americans.
I’ve heard it called a “tolerance for adversity” and “character building”. When a person’s
world turns on it’s ear, she often hears “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” When John got sick, my mom told me, “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
So apparently, there’s a consensus, or at least an underlying recognition, that hardship is good for you. It’s a part of life, so we might as well embrace it.
For a while there, I thought if I moved to a ski area, filling my days with adventure and excitement and a little bit of forced hardship, then I’d fill my quota. I thought if I kept adventuring real adversity wouldn’t find me. But it doesn’t work that way. At least not for very long.
In this weekend’s New York Times article “What if the Secret to Success is Failure,” Paul Tough showcases how two New York school administrators are building character in their students, by teaching them to be tough.
They call it grit.
Grit is a single-minded passion that can’t be swayed. One researcher in the article created a Grit Scale based on a questionnaire in which students rate statements from “I finish whatever I begin” to “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.” Not surprising, students with a higher grit rating achieved higher GPA’s.
But how do you increase your grit? Is it something we are born with or do we acquire it over time?
Grit is always there. When faced with hardship, when our lives are thrust into the fire and boiled down in a crucible, grit is what’s left after the rest has sizzled away. When climbing along a wind-blasted ridge, snow driving against your cheek, it’s grit that pushes you through. When the doctor places his hand on yours and says it’s cancer, it’s grit that lifts your gaze to his. When your lungs burn and your thighs ache and you want to quit, it’s grit that carries you across the finish line. In the very moment you need it, that is when you find it.
Grit is a mental game. When you know it’s there, you find more of it. Just by acknowledging that you have it, telling yourself “I’ve been through tough times before, I can get through this,” your grit rises up and takes action.
Grit never goes away. Knowing that you can call upon the mental toughness you honed during your last climb or the marathon you just completed or the medical emergency your loved one just survived, makes you a stronger, more confident person.
So maybe uncertainty and adventures are more than just selfish endeavors. Perhaps moving to a ski town taught me to better handle the challenges life has thrown my way. Perhaps, it’s a good thing that several years ago I decided to take a year off from my “real job” teaching English and become a ski bum for a year, and I’m fortunate that I never left.
At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
What about you? Do you think we should seek more gritty endeavors in our lives?