What is Grit?
Grit, as opposed to resilience, tends to be more of an individual trait, the result of a powerful mindset.
Though I use the words ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ interchangeably, as synonyms, they are not the same. My experience is most people know what grit is, but are less sure when it comes to resilience.
Grit is mindset. Resilience is systems. When grit comes together with resilience, it’s a powerful combination.
Some studies, such as those by Dr. Angela Duckworth, indicate that grit has more to do with success in life than IQ or talent. It brings to mind a wrestling quote I have often heard, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
My favorite definition of grit is from my 5th grade teacher, Bonnie. Bonnie lives in log cabin in the Rocky Mountains and states,
There is an edge of defiance and fierceness in grit…like – unbridled determination and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Grit is unbridled determination in the face of adversity as we pursue our goals. Grit is not based on IQ or talent, but importantly, mindset.
Mindset and how we internalize and think about failure is the key to building grit and therefore the key to success in life.
I am a retired firefighter. I spent near 25 years promoting through the ranks from firefighter, paramedic, captain, battalion chief, and division chief. During my career, I responded to approximately 15,000 emergency incidents. I have worked with some gritty firefighters during my life.
When a community experiences an emergency, they call the fire department with the expectation that the problem will be solved. This is the community mindset. Likewise, firefighters have a mindset that when an emergency incident happens, it will be mitigated and handled.
Firefighters have the mindset that they will mitigate emergencies. There is no quit, only grit. This mindset is cultivated through training, repetition, and mentorship. Grit is also learned through real-life experience on the street with both success and failure.
Good training will place firefighters in positions where they “fail.” Training scenarios often put “failure” in front of firefighters to cause them not to quit, but to re-adjust their tactics and strategy. The mindset is, we are going to handle this incident, but what we are doing is not working, we now have to re-adjust.
Thus, failure is not perceived as a failure, but a pivot point, a hinge that offers the opportunity to move in a new direction toward problem mitigation. What firefighters learn is that they can adjust to “failure” and as a result, failures are not failures; they are opportunities.
Success in life may be a determinate of grit, that unbridled determination and perseverance in the face of adversity. Grit is the visible manifestation of an internal mindset. Internal mindsets come about through training and repetition, especially as it relates to what is perceived as “failure.” Gritty cultures, with strong mentoring relationships, can foster gritty individuals.
In the end, however, it is the spaces, places, and resources that an individual has access to, is able to negotiate for, that may be more determinate in resilient outcomes.