Do you have true grit?

Photo credit: Instagram @JohnWayne

Do I have grit? It’s a question I often ask myself. In my head, I conjure up the classic movie depicting John Wayne with a weathered smile and an eye patch. I see the resiliency of the 14-year old preteen Mattie Ross. She is gritty, and the one who hires John Wayne’s character US Marshal Rooster Cogburn to deliver justice for her father’s death. Mattie chooses him because she believes he has “true grit”.

Over the years, I’ve consumed books about people accomplishing remarkable things: heroic expeditions, scientific breakthroughs, artistic creations, and brand dynasties.  I’ve read countless texts about men and women who have failed and failed again, only to achieve an otherworld kind of success because they persevered, they followed through with a constant focus. Against all odds, they broke through and created something life-changing for themselves and for society.

Talent is one thing, genius is another. But talent and a genius IQ won’t necessarily get you far if you don’t possess grit. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, grit is defined as “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”

Turning the concept of grit outcomes into a mathematical equation:
“Talent × effort = skill. Skill × effort = achievement” (source: Angela Duckworth).

I just finished the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by psychologist Angela Duckworth. It’s a compilation of stories that share keen insights on what it takes to have a path towards outstanding achievement. She tells accounts of ‘grit paragons’ who broke the ceiling of what was expected of them, including national spelling bee champ Kerry Close, Cinnabon president Kat Cole, legendary 49ers QB Steve Young, Will Smith, and UK comedian Francesca Martinez.

One of the major takeaways of Duckworth’s book is her stance on education and parenting. As parents, we can be gritty role models for our children. If children fail at something, encourage them to get up and approach tasks with tenacity. If they lack goal-seeking focus, help them understand and aspire to long term goals. It’s OK to be demanding and to have high expectations, as long as its balanced with unconditional love and indefatigable support. I see nothing wrong with setting a high bar because I do so out of love and consideration for their bright future.

I have had continuous lessons in grit, largely due in part to my own gritty parents. Under their wing, I was able to grow academically and I learned the value of tenacity. I’ve been knocked down, only to get back up, ready for the next round. When someone tells me I can’t do something (and I have heard this before in various contexts), I possess even greater resolve to persevere.  Because that’s what gritty people do.

We grow up too fast, don’t we?

Once upon a time, I was a child…

I look at my kids most days with a mixture of pride, amusement, and befuddlement. Sometimes I feel like a bystander watching them with soft observant eyes, comparing mental notes to my own childhood. Was I that spunky? Was I that incredibly loud? Did I have that same kind of crazy kid energy? Hmmmm….I think you know the answer.

At that age, I was watching Sesame Street and The Great Space Coaster, unpacking toys from my hallowed Happy Meals, hoarding bazooka gum wrappers to read later, and playing chase with the wily ginger-haired twins down the street. I remember taking pride in my red suspenders and bright corduroy pants, patched up at the knees with bright quilted flowers and butterflies.

I remember having a quiet, thoughtful conversation with a neighborhood friend, asking why her shoes were two sizes too big. They were careworn hand-me-downs. Her mom said she would grow into them. Looking back, I realized her mom couldn’t afford a new pair. As young kids we didn’t quite understand. It didn’t quite register until years later. Instead we laughed and played with whatever we could get our hands on, often coming home with dirt smudged on our faces and a twinkle in our eyes.

Then there was the evolution of my hair. Bowl cut graduated to pigtails graduated to ponytail graduated to spiral perm. Full stop.

Once upon a time
Little old me

Flipping through the leaves of an old family album, I would remember things with greater clarity. History condensed down to these album pages.  I pause.

When did I become my parents? Why did childhood summers seem to last forever while the last few months race by – only to remind me of my own ephemerality. When did I become so old?

My solitary moment is shattered when my toddler daughter chortles and rolls around on the floor. She’s swiffering the floor gleefully with the force of her entire body. At the very same moment, not even a yard away, my son is obsessively doing the floss. His arms swinging back and forth with metronome precision, rapid-fire style. It’s a race in a never-ending loop. Impressive. Thank you Fortnite for this mind-numbing visual.

Doing the floss

I can relate to my kids’ range of pure emotions that take them on a rollercoaster ride all in a 24-day cycle. Peals of laughter that would deafening in an echo chamber, hard stubborn expressions when the wrong sort of vegetables appear on their plates, and the saddest of disappointments when they fail at something important. I look at them through Seussian lenses, delivering the exaggerated character expressions that warrant their quizzical looks and verbal appeals of “mommmmmmmm…..”

While times have certainly changed, the fundamentals of being a kid have not. While we navigate our grownup world, we have the ability to hold on to our childhood essence for a lifetime. To play, to laugh, and to be authentic.

Play time
To play, to laugh


Signs you’re addicted to technology [how-to unplug]

Think you have a problem?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Check your messages, app notifications and social media? We live in a technology-saturated society that can do us harm if we don’t keep it in check.

Tech overuse permeates our society

Tech use has gotten so concerning that Congress has a $95 million proposal to study the effects of it on our children. To varying degrees, we’re all guilty of overextending ourselves with continual distractions related to smartphone use, social media, gaming and apps. Not to mention macular degeneration (leading to blindness), which can be exacerbated by blue light emitted from smartphones, laptops and tablet devices.

Unless we voluntarily unplug metaphorically and physically from time to time, we become overridden by around-the-clock angst and anxiety.

Teens and their parents admit it

The Pew Research Center just released a report this month, in which teens and their parents admit they have a problem with their own smartphone usage. 54% of US teens self-reported they spend too much time on their smartphones, and 36% of parents admitted that they themselves overuse devices. The top emotions that teens feel when without a cell phone tops the list with anxiety (42%) followed by loneliness (25%) and being upset (24%).

It’s becoming crystal clear that tech use often leads to constant distraction and lower quality interactions with people around us – family and friends.

Open-plan work myth busters

An article published this past July summarized takeaways from a Harvard Study. In an open-plan workplace, people wear headphones and use productivity apps (Slack, Skype, Hangouts) in lieu of talking F2F. People choose to withdraw.

“Rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”

What the research also relays to me is the growing interdependence of technology. When given the choice, it’s easier to default to tech use as the medium for communication.

Stuff of science fiction & dark comedies

Why do we get creeped out watching Black Mirror? Because it plays out dystopian scenarios that can feel, well, uncomfortably real.  When one of the happiest episodes is the Emmy-winning San Junipero [*spoiler alert*], perhaps that is because it reaches into the happiness imbued when two people authentically connect, transcending technology.

Then you have Nosedive from Black Mirror’s season 3, in which Bryce Dallas Howard’s character becomes obsessed with her social media ratings to the detriment of her social standing and sanity. A similar plot theme is taken up in the dark comedy Ingrid Goes West, starring Parks & Rec alum Aubrey Plaza. While these are exaggerations at best, they serve as cautionary tales of overexposure that can impact people’s psyche.

Take a break

Of the Western countries, France is considerably ahead in their stance on work-life balance. France’s government has made it a right for employees to unplug after work — the right to disconnect.

There are many compelling reasons to create a regular habit of unplugging and detoxing. It also encourages you to really connect with people and your loved ones.

Put away the iPhones and Android smartphones, turn off Netflix, power down your PS4 / Xbox, stop checking your Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and put your Kindle to sleep.

How-to unplug

Make it a healthy habit to unplug from time to time. Weekends are the best times to do so, especially when you have family. I make it a point to “do things” in my own way.

  • Put away your phone – temporarily put it aside and find your happy place.
  • Enjoy DIY projects (solo, or with the kids) – baking, cooking, craft projects
  • Explore the local scene – farmer’s market, events, nextdoor organized groups
  • Meditate and read books – solo or with friends. Enjoy that cup of coffee or tea
  • Spend time outdoors – walk, hike, or take a run.
  • Join a club or activity – book club, renew that gym membership, and explore group activities
  • Learn something new – Because you’ve been itching to try something new
  • Slow down – don’t always rush out the door. Take pleasure in doing things slowing.