By Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP
The Good, the Bad & the Authentically Gritty //
Part 3: Authentic Grit
To qualify for the label of authentic grit, it’s not enough to be resilient, persistent, and passionate. I believe that gritty behavior is a positive force only when it awes and inspires others to want to become better people and imagine greater possibilities for themselves. People who display it make us wonder, “What if I went after hard things, too? What if I devoted energy and time to cultivating my passions? What if?”
“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.
Authentic grit isn’t something that is reserved for only a few special people, nor are those who have earned that classification clearly destined from childhood to be tough, resilient, and awe-inspiring. While Angela Duckworth’s research has found that some of the strengths that undergird grit, such as optimism and impulse control, are hardwired at birth, many of the traits and behaviors of authentic grit can be learned. For example, goal-setting is a learnable science, as is self-regulation, even if some are born with a jump on it.
Authentically gritty people have these 10 traits in common…
In order to cultivate more grit, I believe it’s best to focus on these 10 areas and understand these traits before rolling up our sleeves to begin working on developing more of the right kind of grit in our own lives:
1. Positive relationships with others
The people who have the quality that makes such a positive difference pull us into their lives in uplifting ways, and they are inclusive, not exclusive. They flourish in their relationships and build other people up. People with authentic grit foster teamwork and camaraderie. Authentic grit is magnetic, and you want to associate yourself with someone who is passionate about something in life because you want to feel that way, too.
The same passion that those with authentic grit bring to goal pursuit is what allows them to create deep connections with others. They are people who don’t just love and appreciate others but also are comfortable being loved and appreciated. It’s interesting to note that the most beloved Hollywood movies are never about succeeding at a big goal and celebrating alone; they are about being gritty and sharing the journey with loved ones, win or lose.
The wrong kind of grit often celebrates alone. In fact, this was the poignant message of the book—later turned into a movie—Into the Wild. Christopher McCandless mistakenly thinks that being isolated and self-reliant is the epitome of happiness, but he dies alone in agony, after eating poisonous berries, in a frigid school bus in Alaska. The last words he penned in the margins of a book that was later found simply read, “Happiness is best when shared.”
2. High hope
People with authentic grit are hopeful and optimistic. Although they may not always be correct about what they think they can do, their positive beliefs offer protective benefits. People with this outlook work longer and harder than others and are less likely to quit when challenged. A hopeful mind-set also allows people to generate more potential solutions for accomplishing their goals and makes them believe they can carry out those solutions, too. But hope and optimism are hard to sustain when you aren’t pursuing your own goals and are trying instead to please others or achieve something that is more superficial than significant.
Authentic grit is also marked by humility, which never promotes itself but rather attracts others. This is the humility of heroism under fire—for example, some selfless act that you don’t learn about until the person passes away. It is the humility of the woman who has toiled in obscurity for years without trumpeting her work improving the lives of others in a community food bank, proud because she knows she is giving her best to a meaningful goal that matters to her. Authentic grit is strikingly devoid of narcissism and the need to be recognized for what one does. Quite the contrary—those with authentic grit know what matters, and don’t need anyone’s approval or praise, nor do they seek publicity to boost their confidence or self-esteem.
Authentic grit is characterized by genuine confidence. People with authentic grit bet on themselves because they know they will have toxic regrets if they don’t give their goals everything they have. Their countenance can be unassuming, but they have a determined mindset that is known to the people around them. The person with authentic grit exhibits grace under pressure, as well as in defeat, and is consistent in his or her unwillingness to quit, whether a trophy or public acclaim or even no reward at all awaits at the finish line. Because they have faith in their abilities and a willingness to learn from mistakes, they have a battle-hardened confidence that is also spotted in the best leaders.
5. Givers, not takers
Authentic grit is also defined by being the right kind of giver. These men and women don’t give to their own detriment. They primarily surround themselves with those who share their mindset but are not above mentoring others who lack focus or discipline. They recognize that being generative and seeing the lights go on in others’ eyes is part of a positive legacy, so they give without strings attached, and often do so secretly and without fanfare. So while people with authentic grit are selfish with their time and energy when they have to be, it’s never just all about them, because they know that other people matter.
6. Appropriate focus
Authentic grit is focused. People who have this quality aren’t dogged finishers in everything in life. In fact, every person I interviewed who fit my criteria for authentic grit laughed immediately and said “No!” when I asked them if they are gritty in every area of life. They preserve their self-regulation for what really matters, and don’t waste time on everything that crosses their path. They narrow down what is meaningful to them and have no trouble finishing last in something else or being self-deprecating about something they aren’t good at.
Authentically gritty people have a certain kind of stubbornness, but use it as a form of “alternate rebellion” because it’s more effective than just being a disruptive troublemaker, which some of them—like Louis Zamperini, the real-life hero from the 2014 film Unbroken—have admitted to being before latching onto a focus that gave their lives purpose and meaning. As a young man, Zamperini ran away from home regularly, stole, fought, and was constantly in trouble until he discovered his talent for running, which he tirelessly honed until he reached the Olympics, finishing in eighth place in the 5000-meter race in 1936. Authentically gritty people can be obstinate, defiant, rebellious, and feisty, but they put that energy to good use when they need to dig deeper for positive goals.
8. Learn from failure
People with authentic grit have experienced disappointment in their goal pursuit, and as a result, they’ve had to learn how to handle defeat, integrate its lessons, and continue on their path.
People with authentic grit are comfortable in their own skin. When you meet them, you may not detect special airs, and they are as comfortable being with other people as they are being alone. When they do the difficult, deliberate work that usually accompanies long-term goals, they do it alone and without excuses. They are not perfectionists to such an extreme that they beat themselves up, though. They know when to have enough self-compassion and wisdom to step away, regroup, refocus, and then return to action.
10. Growth mindset
Finally, people with authentic grit have what is called a “growth mindset” and not a “xed mindset.” People with a growth mindset believe that hard work is the key to succeeding, and their curiosity and willingness to take risks allow them to explore different approaches and be flexible in goal pursuit. A xed mindset believes that intelligence and talent are finite predictors of success and that getting a quick win is more important than working toward an important outcome. The xed mindset also believes that effortless winning is most important, rather than being someone who grinds away toward success, dismissing the idea of doing hard work because it is something that only less talented people have to do.
Baking the Grit Cake
Much like a cake that tastes different when you leave out one ingredient, cook it too long, bake it at the wrong altitude or in the wrong pan, or forget to mix the ingredients thoroughly, it’s not enough just to follow these instructions, and hope for the best. Developing authentic grit means experimenting with these ideas, practicing them over and over, learning what works through trial and error, and evolving from a cook who masters one behavior at a time to a master chef who blends them all together repeatedly with hard work and for the right reasons.
If you demonstrate self-control one day, but not regularly, or you can persist when you want to, but not most of the time, then you will not cultivate authentic grit—instead, you are someone who is dabbling in grit.
Now that you have a good idea about how grit can be both well used and misused, I want you to think about what you need to do to improve your own grittiness in a variety of untested ways. Don’t try to change everything at once. Start with one of these 10 traits, pick something you want to work on, and follow the suggestions to see what works best for you in getting the results you want.
This post includes excerpts from Caroline Adams Miller’s book “Getting Grit”. Click here to download the introduction and first chapter of “Getting Grit”.
Photo credits (in order of appearance): Photo by Juan Jose Alonso, rawpixel.com, Bethany Legg, Isaac Wendlandon, and Calum Lewis Unsplash