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“Over time, grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness.” John Ortberg

“What ever happened to that good old American quality – grit?” Arnold H. 

“Kids with more grit are more likely to succeed.” Ken Whytock

Recently, the idea of “Grit” has come to the forefront. A fabulous new book has been published about grit. Parents are being encouraged to teach their children about grit. Along with so many things, grit seems to be making a comeback and is now “flavor of the month.”For those of us who were born before the mid sixties, grit was not something you were taught. It was something you developed through modeling and realization that life was not easy and not always fair. You might have fallen down, been yelled at unfairly and even cried, but you got back up, recovered and moved on. There was no choice. In fact, such unfairness as unfair as it might have been pushed some to greater heights because of their desire to overcome the obstacle or wrongdoing in their path.

Many years ago as a first-year graduate student, I went to meet with my field adviser. I will refer to her as Ms. M. She was an older, intimidating woman who displayed very little warmth. Ms. M. informed me during our meeting that she had read an introductory essay of mine and was most concerned with my writing. She went on to say it was sub optimal for graduate school and that much effort would be needed to make improvement. Ms. M. did not offer examples or suggestions about the areas of weakness but insinuated that my writing would be unacceptable going forward. Being a naive young woman at the time, I left her office feeling quite devastated and wondered if this would prevent me from pursuing my desired career to help people. In addition, I was dismayed about writing my first paper for the course Human Behavior which was due in a few weeks. The paper was about analyzing boundaries in a family, and it was to be done by choosing one member as a central focus. The particular professor, Ms. S., who was pleasant enough but somewhat detached informed us we would be graded with either V, V+ or V-. To me, it did not matter. I just wanted to give it my best shot even though I was now quite doubtful about my writing abilities. I remember going to the library, and carefully writing each sentence. When I showed it to a new-found friend with whom I remain close thirty-five years later, she thought it was well written and suggested one or two edits only. After much scrutinizing, I decided it was the best I could do, and with much trepidation, I submitted it.

A week later, Ms. S. returned our papers. As I received mine, I glanced at it gingerly. Much to my pleasure and surprise, Ms. S. rewarded me with V+++ and wrote it was one of the best-written papers she had seen on this subject matter. I recall being quite ecstatic and decided to meet again with Ms. M. When we met this second time, I told her that I had been bewildered by her advice but was thankful. She went on to disclose rather nonchalantly that she had made a mistake and had confused my introductory essay with someone else’s. It was not me who needed to make the improvements. I just looked at her and said my good byes. When I left, I was not upset about the unfairness Ms. M. thrust upon me. I was actually more elated recognizing it was not my writing she critiqued. Perhaps if I had done poorly on the Human Behavior paper, I would have been more distressed, but I believe her mix-up pushed me to try harder. Ms. M. callousness assisted me in using grit which I had developed from earlier challenges in life.

I told this story at a recent Toastmaster’s meeting. They looked at me and said “what a story.” I agreed. As I told them, it could have been worse, and all it did was help me cultivate further grit. Growing up, no one sat down and said you need to learn about grit. It was a given and displayed through actions. We were reminded to be thankful for the good things in life and to keep pushing through adversity no matter how unfair it might be. That is how one fosters “True Grit.”