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The Downside to Grit

The importance of self-preservation

woman hiking on beach through rocks
woman hiking on beach through rocks

I recently attended a Women in Leadership luncheon where one of the keynote speakers was Charmaine Crooks, an Olympic athlete and founder of NGU Consulting. Her presentation was inspirational. The idea of never giving up is an important message closely tied to the concept of grit. I mean, her company acronym, NGU, stands for “Never Give Up”.

It’s pretty common to hear people talk about the value and ideal of being a person with persistence, perseverance, never giving up, sticking with it – essentially grit. But rarely do people talk about the downside of grit.

Defining Grit

There are a lot of quotes about grit. Most of them extoll the virtues of persevering, of sticking with something, of grit.

“What is grit? Grit is refusing to give up. It’s persistence. It’s making your own luck.” Peter Diamandis

When I think of grit, I define grit mainly as sticking with something no matter what. And in many success stories for entrepreneurs, artists and athletes, you will hear stories of perseverance.

Both my sisters, Rachel and Kirsten, played at very high-levels of competitive sports. They have been able to channel their learnings from their athletic careers into their rest of their lives.

For instance, Rachel is an entrepreneur and has started up a couple of businesses for herself, in addition to working as a teacher. Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of grit, tenacity, and the courage to try something new when others around you may not fully understand or subscribe to what you’re trying to do.

Then there’s Kirsten, who completed her PhD after ten years of persevering. Working full-time, being a wife and mother to two great kids, and finishing her PhD – if that’s not grit, what is?

The Downside to Grit

So what is the downside to grit?

In my experience, sticking with something no matter what can be damaging. I had an experience where I was working on a team and the leader of the team created an environment that was damaging to me. It was an environment that caused a gradual decline in my mental wellness and eventually I took a leave of absence to recover.

When I look back on the experience, I believe that if I didn’t have quite so much tenacity – quite so much grit – I would have extracted myself from the situation without as much damage to my psyche. And in this circumstance, although there were many people around me who were aware of how I was feeling and what was going on, none were directly responsible to take action.

Knowing When to Walk Away

Sometimes the right thing to do is to walk away. Eventually, I did just that. I hooked myself onto a couple of different projects. These other projects took me out of town, and away from the dynamic that I had been experiencing. But they were both short-term projects and when I came back, I found the environment was the same for me as it had been before.

Eventually I decided to take a different action. What was really the catalyst for me to take a different action was the famous expression credited to Albert Einstein that “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity”.

I had been trying for months to figure out how to change the dynamic, get myself out, get help from others, and nothing was changing. I decided I had to take a more drastic action and send a distinct signal that something else needed to change.

Grit over Talent

Angela Duckworth is a successful author of a book aptly titled “Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance”. Duckworth found that natural talent does not make humans disposed to success so much as the qualities she sums up as “grit”.

According to an article published by The Guardian, Duckworth’s definition includes the commitment to finish what you start, to rise from setbacks, to want to improve and succeed, and to undertake sustained and sometimes unpleasant practice in order to do so.

Reframing Grit

I like Duckworth’s definition better than my own because hers includes rising from setbacks. I’m still working on rising from the setbacks I experienced, but I’m going to reframe my definition of grit to include sticking with it and rising from setbacks. It’s a more powerful definition, but more importantly more empowering. But I’m also going to balance grit with knowing when to walk away.

Based on my own experience, and contrary to popular belief, there is a downside to grit, and knowing when to walk away is equally important.

Has grit served you well? Or have you had to walk away? Please feel free to share your comments with us over on possibilify.com.

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

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