Grit: Do I Have It?

I stumbled upon this TED talk recently:

and it got me thinking about grit. Grit is not a new term to me. I’d read about it before on Nerd Fitness (which actually references that talk) and I felt pretty smug knowing that I had the trait that determines one’s chance for long-term success. I lost weight, didn’t I? I got through an extremely tough university at a young age, right? I went to grad school while working full-time and got my Master’s all because I wanted to, you know? I even trained for and ran a half-marathon. I have freakin’ grit.

Except, I don’t. This has been one of the harder things to accept about myself. You see, there is something we tell kids when they’re little and when they’re adolescents and when they’re young adults. Go to school. Get good grades. Go to a good college. Do that and you’ll be set. I believed this. And the worst thing about it? I didn’t really have to work that hard to get it done.

Don’t get me wrong, I went to one of the hardest universities in the country (we’re where fun comes to die, after all) and I worked my ass off to get through those four years with some semblance of sanity. But it was always a given that I would go to college and that I would graduate and, once I’d done my part, a satisfying career would be handed over to me. It was my prize. I deserved it. I believed that lie.

Perhaps because I never had to work that hard in school – I was always the “smart one” – it took me many years to figure out that I would, indeed, have to work hard outside of school. No longer does my GPA matter or the fact that I graduated at a younger age than normal or the name of the school I went to or the professors I had. Outside there is no security in knowing that if I follow the syllabus I’ll pass the class. I can do everything “right,” but the path to a fulfilling career is not linear. I have not known how to navigate that and I have spent many years with a decent “job,” but with nothing to show in name of “career.” I am thankful to have a job that allows me enough money to live in a safe area, to afford health care, to provide for some fun extravagancies, but I have never had the experience of answering the question “What do you do?” and feeling proud of the answer. I have always wanted that.

The truth, as I’ve come to admit to myself, is that I’ve never worked for it. Whenever I hear people introduce themselves with titles such as “forensic scientist,” “nuclear engineer,” “railroad architect” (yes, these are real occupations that people I’ve met have supplied) I’ve dismissively thought they were just lucky enough to do something that offered a livable pay, while all the things I wanted to do did not.

If “just do well in school” was a lie that was told to me, then “they’re just lucky” was a lie I told myself. It was a way for me to avoid the fact that I was afraid of what hard work looks like, afraid of having to ask others for help, afraid of failing. I knew how to put one foot in front of the other in a plotted out path, but I did not know how to cope with these intangible things. As I’ve worked on building a business from scratch, the past couple years have been an extended course in everything that makes me insecure. I’ve had meetings with people who have promised help, only to never hear from them again. I’ve had to admit I know nothing about things like insurance and licenses and I’ve had to ask around to piecemeal together what we need to do. I have before me the task of using an unfamiliar kitchen and figuring out the most efficient manner of production. And this is all without any guarantee of success. As our business opens and our orders start to come in, I am certain that my determination will be put to the test.

Do I have grit? We’ll see.