Grit, Part 1: Why perseverance is hard to teach
Updated: Feb 24
I have long been a believer in the value of grit (determination and persistence in pursuit of a goal).
I’ll gladly admit it again - I’m pretty sure that I was born talent less, with a lazy predisposition and an overactive mind (ADHD)… None of them, I can assure you, have directly contributed to my success.
But I believe that I was lucky in having been tricked (many times over by my clever mom) in discovering the value of persistence and its long-term benefits at a relatively early age.
I now believe that grit is both at the core of my success and the biggest source of contentment in my life.
I like to tell my children that no matter what path they take (from a doctor to a hairstylist) is up to them. Wherever they feel they have a talent in…. Go ahead and invest yourself in, but do it fully!
Because their investment in time, sweat and tears will soon develop into a deep love for the things they do and that will mean they will be happier doing them, get recognition for their hard work, earn significantly more than their peers and live a generally more content life.
I also believe they will become better husbands and wives, fathers or mothers and citizens in general.
Those are all worthwhile goals.
Why perseverance is not obvious…
It is hard to teach the value of perseverance to any child.
A child learns the value of consequences early on (“behave well and you’ll get a treat”) as we try to direct the long-term behaviors of our children through short-term rewards.
As they grow older we try to move the carrots a little further away (“do well this semester and you’ll get a treat…”) hoping that they can sufficiently sustain effort to meet the targets we want them to achieve and reward them when they do.
It seems simple enough but it’s mostly wrong.
We shouldn’t be teaching them that hard work produces direct or delayed results that they can earn - because at the slightest offset (a bad mark, a stone on the road) they may feel that they may miss the target and then give up altogether.
Instead, we should be teaching them that when they push themselves: they are making themselves stronger and better at every step - and that's what's it all about.
I like to use the analogy of video games (once more) and that no matter the game they try to beat, they will hit many snags at each level of the game.
And that with every game, they are making themselves a little better, they are refining their skills a little more and they are progressing a little further.
And the same happens in real life when when they try and push themselves - they are making themselves stronger, smarter, better…. And that failure is just part of the process of learning and growing.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts”
- Winston Churchill.
That every hour spent studying is increasing their grey matter, intensifying and multiplying the signals and connections in their brains and making themselves smarter in the process….
That at every try (even when it ends in failure), they are making themselves better at every step of the way.
And to remember that at the end of every level, there is a “big boss” that they may have to defeat. And that will fail many times along the way and possibly lose “all of their lives” and have to restart all over again back at level 1.
Until magically they beat him and whisk through another level… effortlessly for a while.
And that in life those moments happen also when you’ve broken the ceilings on top of you… When you’ve reached that new level.
A reminder that when things get tough - it’s a sign that you’ve hit that ceiling again and it’s going to hurt but you’re gonna have to break it again…
So remember to take a step every day…
If you work hard, you will see that there will be many moments when things will seem like they’re moving briskly and that much progress is made. You will feel like you’re reaping the efforts of your hard work and it will be very fulfilling.
You will be able to look back at your progress with pride. You will be able to see the direct results of your efforts in many ways and that will feel very encouraging and want to push you to do more.
Everyone that knows me well (in business or personal) knows that I have an immense resilience and even stronger determination. I may have been born talent less but I’m a resilient mo****er (an ex-partner used to tell me the song “Danny Boy” summed me up pretty well because of the verse: “I get knocked down but I get up again…”).
Life and the pursuit of any goal is going to be long and tortuous.
Success, happiness and even peace will not be reached through a straight-line… rather through a long series of detours, roadblocks, setbacks and affliction…
Sounds hard? It is….
But life is going to throw all sorts of challenges your way. Recognizing that early on and having the courage to continue is what counts…
There will be time when you will find it hard to master the new responsibilities of that promotion, you will struggle with a new problem with one of your children, an external event will cause a major setback…. Whatever that is…. They will happen…. often.
And you might be tempted to feel its unfair and you may be right but remember that life doesn’t have to be fair.
It’s a sign that you’ve hit the plateau or a challenge to develop another life skill…
Even when you feel like all of this hard work was for nothing, that you are now even further away from your goal and feel like lowering your arms and giving up - take a step.
Remember that it is at those times that you are tested. It is at those times that you must rise…. It is at those times when you feel like you’re paddling empty that you have to continue…
“When going through hell, keep going.”
- Winston Churchill.
And on those days, take a single step - but take a step.
Do one thing, just one, that will make that situation a little better…. If only one.
It will feel like a slow, painful and gradual process and that's ok…
It will sometimes take days, weeks or months before you overcome this challenge. You need to have faith that you will. And the good news is that it almost always works out that way so you will much more often feel rewarded than frustrated.
And then one day, you’ll wake up and suddenly realize that you are there - almost magically. Flying through that next level.
And you’ll realize that at each level upward - there is more rarity because there are fewer people that have pushed themselves there. So many people would have given up on their dreams thinking it was too hard and not worth it.
And at every level that you beat, you will find even more rarity... until eventually you become gradually better or even masterful in the paths you've chosen.
And you’ll look back at your efforts with great pride…. Even if nobody else is looking. You’ll take great pride in yourself because you’ll know the value of your work and the commitment and sacrifices that took you there.
And as you reach higher levels still - you may even start to get the recognition from your peers, friends and close ones. And they will serve as further reinforcement for the behavior you’ve now chosen.
You got a lot closer to where you wanted to be and you've made yourself that much strong along the way.
It took time, pain, sweat and sometimes tears - but you are here.
And… embrace the pain.
I love this quote from Mohamed Ali: “I don’t know how many push-ups I do… I only start counting when it hurts.”
I’m not a masochist… far from it. It’s just that I’ve realized that I’d rather have to endure the pain of hard work than the consequences of a life devout of any.
In other words, I recognized early on that there are two types of pain: pain of hard work or pain of staying in my current situation. And I’ve also noticed that staying usually makes bad situations worse and applying effort usually makes them better.
So, I'd rather wake-up earlier in the mornings when things are tough to ensure that I get myself out of my current position. I've learnt to double down when things get tough... not give up.
I’d rather invest in the efforts that are the necessary price to pay to get out of the situation I’m in….
And in the same way that my mom had tricked my mind in the past, I’ve also learnt to trick my mind into assigning a positive connotation to pain.
I look at pain as both inevitable and good - as I remind myself that this humbling process is what will allow me to come out a stronger, gentler, wiser and smarter, better person.
I’ve conditioned my mind to embrace pain in every way.
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
- Winston Churchill (again…)
When things get tough, I like to say to myself: “Bring it on!” As if to both anticipate it with enthusiasm and embracing the growth that will result from it.
Because my many years have taught me one thing well… time and painful time again… is that there aren’t any situations that I can’t get myself out of and that there aren’t any positions I cannot reach…
And when you start applying this mindset in your life, you will see that this new attitude towards pain, sacrifice and growth are the same qualities you need to not only become happier but also how they make you a generally much better person at all levels.
The science of which, I will detail in my next blog …