Want Grit? Ask Yourself “Why Not?” Instead of “Why?”


On September 27th in Mason Hall at Baruch College I will give a TEDx talk on grit.

In four weeks I will give my first TEDx talk, which will be about grit, a topic I have been fascinated by ever since I learned about it when I returned to school to get a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006.

Grit is defined as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals” by Angela Duckworth, one of the recipients of the 2013 MacArthur Genius grants.  Her work with Martin Seligman at Penn on researching what constitutes grit and what it can predict has gotten so much press that it has captured the public’s imagination.  Few inspirational sports stories fail to cite grit as an essential ingredient of success, and just about every rags-to-riches account sprinkles mentions of grit liberally throughout.

I’ve worked with hundreds of people, and encountered far more, in my life who meet the definition of grit.  I’ve seen them refuse to accept defeat as entrepreneurs, persevere in overcoming health challenges, persist in making a difference in their sphere of life, and generally just find ways to stay alive and in the game when it would be easier to quit.

Although it’s unclear whether grit can be learned by everyone, I have noticed that there is an outlook common to every gritty person I know and that I believe anyone can adopt: they ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?”  when they are faced with challenges.  Instead of saying, “That’s too hard,” “I don’t want to try,” or “Why me?” they choose to see challenges as invitations to try something new.  They may not have a playbook telling them what to do, how to do it, or how the challenge will turn out, but they universally choose to bet on themselves rather than risk having regrets about not even trying.

Anne Dunivin, a 98-year-old competitor at the Masters Long Course Swim Championships at the University of Maryland, took up swimming at 91 and won  her three events in front a raucous, cheering audience in August.
Anne Dunivin, a 98-year-old competitor at the Masters Long Course Swim Championships at the University of Maryland, took up swimming at 91 and won her three events in front a raucous, cheering audience in August.

Two weeks ago I competed in the Masters Nationals Swim Championships at the University of Maryland.  During one of the days of competition the crowd of competitors, spectators and officials stood and roared, whistling and clapping, as 98-year-old Anne Dunivin of Georgia Masters took to the pool to compete in her three events – all of which she won.  As we all applauded this plucky woman getting into the water before the start of her race, and throughout the entire period she was swimming, someone nudged me and said, “I heard she learned how to swim at 91.”

Anne Dunivin has grit.  In spite of lots of easy excuses – too old, too hard, I don’t know how, people will laugh, and son on – she asked herself “Why not?” and went for gold when she contemplated taking up this new hobby in her tenth decade of life.  And because she did so, she brought a cavernous auditorium to its feet several weeks ago, all of whom left awed and inspired because she chose the challenge, and not the easy way.

Ask yourself “Why not?” at least once every day when you are faced with something that scares you, but that you would always choose if failure weren’t an option.  In doing so, you won’t just potentially alter the trajectory of your life, you will undoubtedly change someone’s else’s view of what they can do, too.


If you would like to participate in Caroline’s Authentic Grit challenge, click here to go to her website, where you will be guided in how to take the Grit Scale and participate in the three-month opportunity to adopt some new, resilient behaviors.  


Caroline Adams Miller

Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP is a pioneer with her ground-breaking work in the areas of goal-setting/accomplishment, grit, happiness and success. Caroline is the author of eight books, including Positively CarolineMy Name is Caroline,  Creating Your Best Life and Getting Grit. Live Happy Magazine named Creating Your Best Life one of the top ten goal-setting books ever published and Getting Grit one of the ten books that will change your life in 2017.  Her new book, Big Goals, is anticipated for release in the fall of 2024.  Caroline has been featured in BBC World NewsThe New York TimesThe Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News &World Report, ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.  She is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

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3 Responses
  1. Judy Krings, Ph.D., PCC, CMC

    Grit is the breakfast of champions. I think it’s one of the most important life-skills to master if you want to sky-rocket your success, even if it takes you years to get there. That 98-year-old swimmer lady, who began at 91, God love that poster girl for grit. Thanks, Caroline!

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