What is grit? This term is thrown around a lot these days. There is even a book called Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverence by Angela Duckworth. According to Merriam-Webster, grit can be defined as “1a: sand or gravel; b: a hard sharp granule; 2: any of several sandstones; 3a: the structure of a stone that adapts it to grinding; b: the size of abrasive particles usually expressed as their mesh; 4: firmness of mind or spirit; underlying courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Synonyms include backbone, constancy, fiber, fortitude, guts, spunk. Angela Duckworth notes from studying high achievers, “It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made [them] special. In a word, they had grit.” (Duckworth, 2016). She further notes that “[o]ur potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another” implying grit is a choice.
Related to endurance and resilience, grit is a form of determination and a lesson I’ve learned and cultivated through running. I have also learned about grit through situations I’ve faced in life and have had the opportunity to bring these learnings to the run where I find further clarity. Grit, to me, is that moment in the marathon, the “bonk” as I called it in the first blog post of this series, when I go through the mental battle and then decide to dig deep and choose to commit to the finish line. I use the term, “decide” because I do think grit is a decision, a choice, whether conscious or not, to give it your all, to dig a little deeper than you thought you could and see something through. Grit takes wisdom – not every battle is meant to be fought and not every battle can be won, even with additional determination. There’s a decision to be made if the application of grit is appropriate or worthwhile in any given situation. Experiences of overcoming and employing grit help provide this insight I call wisdom.
This moment of “deciding”, of choosing to dig deep and apply grit, happens during every marathon for me. Though as I have accumulated a number of experiences now, the decision to get gritty comes easier, as if the grit has accumulated. I have learned not to give up. As a general rule of thumb, I generally apply a little grit first before turning to the wisdom of experience and intuition. As a runner, I have endured stress fractures, muscle tears, and even a stroke, and have returned to the run, better able to overcome. Having children, running marathons, overcoming brain surgeries all taught me to not only overcome, but also to trust in the strength of my body and mind, and to trust my gut. I would say that it was grit that got me through and I could also say that getting through these experiences helped to build my grit.
The marathon that stands out for me as a true test of my grit, that “passion and perseverance” Duckworth calls out in her book (2016), was the Boston Marathon, also mentioned in my Lessons of the Run: Resilience piece. Six weeks before Boston, 2018, I had a stroke that caused temporary numbness in my left hand and arm, the left side of my face, and also hampered my speech. Truthfully, I didn’t think much of it. I was confident, without a doubt, I would be fine, I would overcome. The first question to my doctors was “can I still run the Boston Marathon?” Immediately, my relentless determination set in and undoubtedly aided my recovery. My previous brain surgeries and hospitalizations, migraines, and my marathon training gave me the grit – that experience of overcoming, combined with the passion, the determination, the courage, and the strength – to pursue the completion of the Boston Marathon.
When it came to employing grit to cross the finish line, it wasn’t just the stroke or the 26.2 miles or the infamous Heartbreak Hill I had to overcome that day. There was the weather that day – the icy rain and driving winds. I felt more like I was wearing a wet suit, or that a wet suit may have been a better choice for the conditions! I distinctly remember my Apple watch I’d been using to track my pace and encourage myself died at mile 13. I remember the conversation I had in my head, the longing to quit the race and then the louder voice that replied, “Hell no! You’ve worked too hard, you’ve come too far, this may not be your best time, but you WILL finish this marathon. You can do this! You’ve got this!” I still had 13 miles to go when I had this conversation with myself; 13 long, cold, miserable miles! Grit is what I would say kicked in and empowered me to cross the finish line that day; experience reminded me I could run the distance, determination and passion reminded me that quitting wasn’t an option.
“We do hard things!” is a mantra we’ve adopted in our family from Angela Duckworth’s book (2016). Learning to overcome, building perseverance, finding your passion and voice – these are how grit is built. I remember my Aunt Norma once saying, “The more you do, the more you can do,” and in this context this again rings true. Grit is built and earned through experience, and the more “hard things” you do, the greater the “hard things” you can do and overcome. To perseverance and passion, I would add courage. May you have the courage to choose to overcome, build you grit, and do many great and hard things!
What hard things do you want to achieve? What is standing in your way? What are your fears? Where do you hit a wall, or as I call it, where’s the “bonk” occurring? How might you face it differently next time to achieve something new? What will allow you to dig deep and collect experiences of overcoming to achieve the grittiness you need to accomplish and fulfill your dreams? What is one thing, one challenge you’re facing right now, that might benefit if you decided to employ grit, dig a little deeper and give just a little more?
This is the final installment of the Lessons of the Run series, and a perfect segue to my next series, Four Letter Words.