Don’t Give Up; Get Gritty

It’s possible that like me you’re watching the unfolding of the new regime with a sense of dread and astonished foreboding. One tweet summed it up neatly: I knew it would be bad, but I didn’t know it would so stupid.

It’s hard to both stay informed and also stay engaged. The constant stream of “alt-facts”, strange acts of defiance and treachery, and people blathering about it all just wears you down. It’s rough going.

Which means you’re going to have to get tough. That means grit, as Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance, will tell you. In the book she describes this character trait as the true key to success — that the people who succeed are not so much rooted in talent as in stubbornness: just plain not giving up. It’s not as romantic as some glorious revolution or uprising, but it’s a lot more effective and tends to have fewer guillotines.

Developing Your Grit

Here’s the good news: yes, some people are born that way, but if you’re not — if, like most of us, you find yourself in a situation where you need to batten down the hatches and fortify the ramparts to withstand an onslaught of eroded civil liberties, Angela has a pretty simple four-step recipe to find your gritty self:

  1. Hang on to your hobby. What’s that thing that you could do forever? That thing that you might think of as a “guilty pleasure” right now, but that you keep coming back to? That is your oasis; that is the recharging station that will replenish your soul when you are feeling ground down. Find that thing that you love, and nurture it, even if it seems trivial. It is your passion, so it’s vital!
  2. Remember that frustration is part of the process. Don’t be Don Moonlight from Sesame Street, pounding your head on the metaphorical piano of life crying I’ll never get it! Never! Instead, listen to Angela Duckworth: “It’s by making those mistakes that you get better.” That means every setback is a gift from life, showing you what doesn’t work and at the same time building your strength.
  3. Create the meaning you want to see in the work. “I just don’t feel like I’m making a difference,” is an easy thing to say (I know that I say that, anyway; maybe it’s just me). That, again, is attached to the romantic notion that change is going to be dramatic, fast, and egocentrically satisfying, with you standing on a pile of your enemies waving a flag as the sun sets behind you. That’s not how it works; think incrementally, and see what you can do today, just a little. Maybe it’s as small as smiling at your neighbor, or writing congress. Maybe it’s something big, like a demonstration, or raising your children to not be bigots. Whatever your job is, you have the capacity — and the responsibility — to make a difference. Work with that.
  4. Let your belief in change sustain your growth mindset. Remember that everything that is happening is part of the constant roiling tumble of life. Things change for the worse; things change for the better. If you forget this, not only will it make it harder for you to keep going, but you’ll also be wrong. Things do not stay the same, and you can’t make them. All you can do is choose how you want to shape that change.

Many are finding comfort in the words of Octavia Butler, whose books The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents have proven far more prophetic than expected. One of the phrases to especially remember is this: “Kindness eases change. Love quiets fear.” If all you can manage is a kind word or clinging tightly to that which you love, it is enough. It will nurture the growth of the grit that will sustain you until the hard times get happier.