Some are born “grit”—but can you learn it?

No one talked about “grit” when I was growing up. Reading Angela Duckworth’s fascinating book on the subject reminded me of that.

Oh, every four years the Olympics would shine a light on some kid who spent every waking hour on the ice in a distant rink. But those people were clearly outliers. One-in-a-million. Not me.

At school, I knew some of my classmates worked very hard—and their grades showed it. I coasted through my classes, content in the middle of the pack. Or a least I assumed I was in the middle. My school didn’t rank us—not even when the colleges we applied to insisted—so this is all a guess. It really wasn’t until senior year that I pushed myself to work harder. And then I settled back to coasting again in college.

Decades later, I find I have somehow become a fairly gritty person. Take this writing streak, for instance (Day 260 when I finish writing this)—I’ve kept it going through all sorts of chaos and calamity. Last night, I realized as I was on my way out for an unexpected dinner with the spousal unit that I hadn’t done my “15 minutes.” So as soon as we got home, I booted up the computer and wrote.

I have pushed myself to deliver assignments to clients on insane deadlines, amid chaotic circumstances in home and/or office. In over 25 years of my professional writing career I have, in fact, never missed a deadline. I forget how extraordinary that is until I mention it to another writer. Eyes widen; jaws drop. But to me, it’s not exceptional. I’m a professional—for me, it’s table stakes.

Yes, I have grit.

You want grit? Why?

So the question is not “can you learn grittiness?”—Duckworth believes certain kinds of people, predominantly optimists, absolutely can. But here’s another—maybe better—question: Why would you want to?

Grit on ice: competitive figure skatersGrit means making sacrifices, some larger than others. I didn’t have to give up dinner with the spousal unit; I merely had to commit to returning to work afterwards. Ask an athlete rising at 4 a.m. for the two-hour drive to the ice rink if that qualifies as a “sacrifice.” But you’d better have good reflexes because you’re likely to get a figure skate thrown at your head.

Like the figure skater, I’m making choices not because I want “grit” but because I want to get better at what I do.

Bottom line: Some people will find excuses in just about any set of circumstances. Gritty people don’t see excuses; they only see opportunities.

  • mindset
  • writing