What it Takes to Slog: Grit
What does it take to slog?
People like to say, “life’s about the journey, not the destination.” The path is the goal. I’ve said this kind of stuff before as well, as it's true: the premise is that our lives are short so we should enjoy every moment we can. Though we often confuse ourselves for Gods, human beings are animals and as with all organic matter, we have an expiration date. To enjoy life fully, eastern cultures, and many coaches in well-being and meditation, prescribe living in the present, letting go of the past and future, and cultivating mindfulness and acceptance.
But this prescription can be difficult to follow, and has some caveats. Sometimes life deals us lemons. Sometimes we have to do stuff that sucks. When times are good and the road is smooth it’s easy to “enjoy the ride,” but what happens when there’s tire-eating potholes and complete road closures? Some things in life – tasks, responsibilities, or even long term factors like being in the wrong job – can be so painful, difficult, tedious, or otherwise unpleasant, that there can be no lemonade. Sometimes you’ve just got to slog through life's lemon hurricanes.
In the book “Grit,” psychologist and professor Angela Duckworth defines the term “grit” as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. In her studies she discovered that success across sectors, from professionals to military trainees to students, requires long-term dedication and the stamina to stick to the path required to get you there. What the teachers preaching “live in the moment” gloss over is that this means even – and especially - when those moments are really hard. But how can we do that?
I’ve never faced the kinds of status or privilege barriers that some folks face, including poverty, disability or disfigurement, overt discrimination, terminal disease, or crippling emotional traumas like PTSD stemming from childhood abuse or abandonment. But I’ve experienced physical assault (#metoo), verbal abuse, a reoccurring illness, and family dramas (like most people). I solo climbed Mount Washington in 2015 and climbed Mount St. Helens in 2018 – both were pretty painful. I’ve also survived law school and the bar exam, breakups, and periods of depression. During a one year period around 2009 I got in 3 successive car accidents, my cats got fleas, I had to break my lease and move during finals and bar exam study time because my HOA became hostile (my landlord was delinquent on assessments), I got dumped, I was chronically and repeatedly ill with a cough, and about 5 other horrible things happened…this was a decade ago and things were so rough that I was drinking heavily to cope, so I’ve forgotten a lot of the details.
My point is, even we of the privileged statuses are going to experience some hardship, and how well we get through those times may depend on our ability to follow through, to be accountable to our values and goals even in our darkest hours. We've got to be able to SLOG.
I have been able to overcome obstacles and persevere. I had a scholarship for lawschool and was able to become an attorney. I am licensed to practice law in 3 states. I was able to quit drinking and cultivate healthy lifestyle habits. I've started businesses, managed boards, and I was able to successfully execute a cross-country life and career transition. But how?
Angela Duckworth talks about living life like a marathon, not a sprint. To do this we need grit. Grit is not about talent, smarts, financial status, physical health or IQ. It's more closely linked to having a growth mindset. Per Carol Dweck, this growth mindset stems from the belief that our abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, and an understanding that failure is a not permanent condition. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. A person can never be a failure. We can fail – but we can try again and succeed.
During hard times I use mantras that help me stay afloat. My favorites are “this too shall pass,” and, “in time, things will get better.” These mantras are evidence of, and perpetuate, grit. They are built on the belief that nothing is permanent, that I have the agency and power to change my life for the better.
“Life’s about the journey” doesn’t always come into play when you’re hanging by one arm from a tree branch like the cat in the “hang in there, baby!” poster. I think it comes in to play later, when the storm passes and you can look back and see how the hard times made you stronger. How your grit - your determination and belief in yourself - got you through the turbulence.