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Grit: Going Back to the Foundation

To find grit for the toughest challenges, go back to the beginning.

Grit. The word has its origins in Old English, meaning sand, dust, earth, and gravel. But its use describing a character trait of pluck, spirit, and firmness of mind dates back to the early 1800s. Nowadays we understand grit as the most important indicator of success, thanks to the work of Angela Duckworth, and it’s grit that the leaders whom I interviewed as the foundation for my book, The Grit Factor, show.

Most recently, I’ve been asked about how people might access grit, when so much is overwhelming to so many, from taking on double their responsibilities at home and work in the midst of quarantine, to economic hardship. More than anything else seems to be the near-crippling and anxiety- producing uncertainty of it all.

How can we possibly find grit when so much else is difficult?

The stories and lessons—as well as the tactical ideas—I have learned, including while researching the book, not only informed my understanding of my own experience as one of the first women to fly the Apache helicopter, but also have helped to give me tools to apply in my life today, as I know they will for you.

Where to start when things feel like they are too much? I start with the foundation of grit. One thing that is clear after talking to dozens of leaders in the vanguard of their fields is that grit is not an isolated characteristic; it is very much dependent on the whole leader concept for success. Owning one’s story is the basis of grit.

What does that mean?

Owning your story is deep introspective work. One thing people with grit know is that while they may not be able to control the raw material of their loves, they absolutely can decide how that material will be shaped, and decide how they will use it to develop the narrative that they want to live.

When I work with clients or give workshops, we start with a life journey line. Here’s how you do it:

  • Start with a blank piece of paper, oriented horizontally.
  • Draw a line across the middle of the paper, side to side.
  • Label it birth to the present. Write down the events that had a positive influence on you above the line, and those that affected you negatively below the line. Of course, the big experiences like attending college could go above and below. There are no right answers to this exercise.
  • Once you’ve added in events, look back over your life, and look at the places where perhaps you failed, or learned another valuable lesson, and write down what you learned, or perhaps a skill you may have developed.
  • Go back over your lifeline. What values did you develop, at what stages? Do they have a specific application, or more general? Write down these values, and then circle them.
  • With the work that you’ve done looking back at the past, ask yourself how you can tell the story of your life in an empowering and positive way.
  • Then look ahead. Where do you want your life to go? Who is the person that you want to be? How can the work of your earlier life inform and guide you in that journey?

Thanks for joining me here. I hope you’ll get your own copy of The Grit Factor and let me know what you think!

To your grit,


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