habits · motivation · training

Is Grit Good or Bad?

It’s Monday. Even though I don’t work a Monday-to-Friday job, nor do I have children on a school schedule, Monday morning always feels like a moment to re-up my commitment to … well to pretty much everything, from work to sports. Monday is for grit. For courage and resolve. And I think of that as a good thing.

So when Samantha shared The Case Against Grit with us on Facebook the other day, I thought: What? Grit is in the doghouse now? Being a quitter is cool? Great. I don’t have to persevere anymore. So much more relaxing. I’ll just stay in bed on Mondays.

Turns out, the article was not actually anti-grit, but pro-quit. No surprise, the piece argued that laser focus on one pursuit to the exclusion of all others and against all odds may not be the best decision. 

I agree. Sticking to something just because we’ve invested a lot of resources in it already is not a good reason. I quit being a lawyer after investing years of my life in school and practice. Nothing I do now even remotely requires a law degree. On my worst days, I’ll wonder why I wasted so much time. Most days though, I don’t regret those years. I recognize them as building blocks in the life I’ve constructed. I credit law school with teaching me how to be organized and complete projects, how to think structurally.  

The problem with the never-quit motivational-speak is that it forgets about discernment. We have to choose wisely what to get gritty about. We have to try different things, to know what to stick with. If we don’t delete, then we will never have the resources (time/space/money) to invest in trying new things. 

We have to check in with ourselves regularly about why we stick with a pursuit:  

·     Why am I doing this activity? 

·     What am I trying to prove and to whom? 

·     Why do I want to quit? 

·     Does this pursuit align with my values?

·     How will I feel if I quit? 

·     Where would I rather spend my grit?

With law, I was trying to prove I was smart and capable, to myself and others. But the whole endeavor was a performance of those qualities, not rooted in any fundamental desire to be a lawyer. I also wanted to be useful in the world. I wanted my life to have some of that elusive meaning, so many of us look for. Eventually, I realized that I could find meaning elsewhere and be more fulfilled. Quitting law wasn’t proof in a case against grit (nor did it prove I was a quitter). 

The topic is tangled. Samantha wrote about grit and her Aikido practice: Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle.  As Kenny sings, we need to know when to fold ‘em. And Tracy shared thoughts on grit, too: “Why am I doing this?” On wanting to quit but not quitting. Both posts are about the organic, ongoing need to assess the balance between sticking with something and strategic quitting. 

I also wrote about grit in my new book. Quick background, Run Like A Girl 365 Days A Year is structured as a book of days. After all, that’s how we live; cyclically, seasonally, in loops that come back around again. I’m injured. I’m recovered. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m peaking. I’m flatlining. All of which takes grit to get through. 

May 12-15 in the book look at grit from various angles. Here’s May 13:  

. . . what’s right for you

Just because everybody is doing high-intensity interval training, or boxing, or long slow distance, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. The only way you can figure out what sports your body loves and responds to is to try them on. See how an athletic pursuit fits. And quit when it’s not right for you. 

I pursued aerial arts for about a year. I learned how to climb a silk, wind myself up in the strong, stretchy fabric that hangs from high rafters, then flip and spin my way out. One day, just as I was starting to feel comfortable in the practice, I almost ripped my arm off grabbing at the silk in a moment of fear. Once my shoulder healed, I started back at the practice, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I kept forcing myself to go, because I thought, Well I’ve already invested a year on a steep learning curve. I can’t quit now. Yet I’d known, even before the injury, that I would never make the time to become as good as I’d like. I would have had to give up other sports I loved (such as running), not to mention that after the shoulder incident I better understood that I risked an injury, which could sideline my true passions. 

Still, I’m glad I tried. The experience of learning something radically different from anything I had ever done before was mind-bending. 

But I’m glad I quit. Soon after I was introduced to aerial yoga, which fulfilled my craving to fly. 

In addition to law and aerial arts, I have quit: triathlons, road marathons, downhill skiing, rock climbing. The list could go on. Sports are easier for me to quit. What I value is movement and diversity in how I engage my body, so there’s no one sport that demands I stick with it. 

I have also stuck with a lot of things, the things that matter most to me in my life. I’ve stuck with building a life around writing. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but nope, takes a lot of grit, pretty much every day. And I’ve stuck with moving my body a whole lot. The sports change, the commitment to getting out on the road or into a studio stays the same. 

Hand holding a pink sign with white lettering that says, “Practice Kindness”
from Unplash, by Sandrachile

We have to balance our grit with the grace of knowing when enough is enough.Tracy thought about quitting because of a mean and discouraging voice in her head. She didn’t listen to that voice in the end. The voice that should guide us in our decisions is the one of kindness. Kindness isn’t going to let us get away with being half-assed. That’s not kind. Kindness wants to hold us to our own highest standard. 

Grit is for the pursuits that nourish us! 

What’s gritty and what’s the voice of kindness suggesting you quit these days?

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