What is Grit and Why is it Important?

Robert T. Hanlon holding his book on the subject of thermodynamics

Author and psychologist, Angela Duckworth, defines grit as "sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.”

My brother Bob recently completed a 615 page book on thermodynamics entitled Block by Block: the Historical and Theoretical Foundations of Thermodynamics. It took him 20 years to write the book. I read the book during the first four months of COVID-19 restrictions, usually at a rate of 10 pages at a crack. I drank a lot of coffee and there were weeks where I had to put the book aside. There were many formulas that for me, being a history major, were hard to comprehend. I am sure that engineers and physicists would not have had a problem. I was determined to finish that book, and I found it to have just the right amount of history and storytelling and the right writing style to keep me at it. Plus, I had to do it for my brother since he put so many years of his life into writing it.

I start this blog with this writing feat, both because I admire Bob’s tenacity and grit in writing it and second because I discovered that many of the scientists whose stories he told possessed those same traits. Finally, I feel that the subject of developing grit is central to the work that we do at River’s Way with our walking challenge.

We approach our work with young people with differing abilities with the idea that we are not there to help them. Rather, we are all interdependent, and we are all there to help each other. This is a hard idea to grasp because in our society and culture, we usually look at people with differing abilities as people who need our help. When we do this we are implying that we are somehow better and more capable than they are. Instead of seeing people with differing abilities as having unique abilities that we are often lacking, there is a tendency to see people with differing abilities, if we see them at all, as “special” people who live in their own little segregated communities composed of people with differing abilities, family members and their caretakers.

People with differing abilities are just like anyone else. The more they are challenged to work hard to achieve goals, especially goals which they have a say in, the more they are able to develop a sense of pride and accomplishment. They develop grit. We see this on a daily basis with our walking challenge. Even though we are Zooming, we can sense the pride that our Game Changers, a group of young adults with differing abilities, have with their walking progress. They become more polite, more talkative, more self assured as they see the record of their walks. They see that success requires hard work and they see that they are capable of success.

Camden Richard is a good example of someone who breathes a sense of pride and achievement as a result of his walking. Cam is one of our Game Changers. I am in the walking challenge along with Cam and over 120 people of all abilities. I can safely say that we all help, encourage and motivate each other. Cam loves getting on Zoom so he can be there when we go over the walking progress that everyone has made. He especially loves it when he sees that he beat me in mileage!!!! We both average a little over four miles a day and we now have a friendly competition going.

As Cam’s walking has progressed, we have seen a more friendly and polite side where he regularly comments on our walks with “I love your walk” or “Good job”. You can see he has a sense of purpose that is not the result of a one and done activity, but a steady application of

effort on a daily basis. It’s like lifting weights. The more you apply yourself on a regular basis, the stronger you become both physically and mentally. Walking with the MapMyWalk app has provided a positive foundational structure for Cam and for everyone in the group. You work hard at a goal. You achieve. Other parts of your life fall into place.

Everyone grows when grit grows. The development of grit is essential in developing a fulfilling life and that holds true regardless of ability levels. My brother succeeded in writing his book because he went to bed each night with the idea that he was going to write in the morning. Day after day, year after year he put his nose to the grindstone, sticking with it. When he met obstacles, as with the need to compile an index, he hesitated, took time to readjust and then he kept going.

I close with some thoughts from my sister on Bobby’s accomplishment:

“I watched Bobby from the beginning until the end. It took a long, long time. There was a lot of editing. Just when he thought he had finished, he realized that he forgot to take the index into account. He thought the index would take one morning. It didn’t. It took a long time too. The perseverance required to complete this monumental task is commendable. In the face of every road block he kept pushing forward. That takes determination and I am proud of him.”

The same stick-with-it approach that applies to Bobby’s undertaking applies on a different scale to our Game Changers for whom walking on a hot summer’s day while pursuing goals of longer and longer walks is the aim. Grit was and is required in both cases. Grit provides the foundation, the solid footing, that enables people of all abilities to succeed when it comes to the goals we set for ourselves.

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