GRIT – not such a new idea.
All three of my school prizes were for Grit and Determination. Even back in the sixties, this was seen as a quality to be proud of, but I saw it as an ‘also ran’ prize. I wanted recognition for my skill in French or English Language. Nowadays, having ‘grit’ is a promoted as a positive trait based on passion and perseverance with schools being offered awards for helping young people to develop these qualities so they can leave school more rounded and equipped to deal with life’s inevitable knocks. There’s a certain commercialisation about it.
I grew up at a time where central heating was not common place – coal fires provided heating in our home – and frost patterns on the bedroom windows greeted us in the mornings. I remember a mad dash to get dressed for school, sometimes pulling on clothes under the bedding during the Great Freeze of 1963. It made me tough.
Baths were limited to a few inches of water twice a week but we were lucky as many homes in the 1960’s still didn’t have bathrooms. A tin bath was dragged in front of the fire and filled with water from the kettle. Chicken was a Sunday treat with the rest of the week’s main meals made up of cheap cuts of meat, potatoes and plenty of vegetables. Most women baked, sewed, knitted and mended, stretching the weekly housekeeping to the best of their ability. I don’t remember going hungry or without school uniform but I do remember being incredibly cold and miserable in our solid walled bungalow.
We didn’t think of it as hardship as my father was always in work and my mother at home. The message I received was ‘Cash only and hard work brings rewards.’
My early training in grit and determination got me through and out of a controlling relationship, helped me build a business and become fiercely independent, survive a breakdown and help others to do the same. It helped develop a strength of character that helped me pursue goals without giving up when times got tough but more importantly to keep pushing through physical and emotional pain without complaining or blaming.
Books, training courses, workshops and presentations on Grit and Resilience seem to be ubiquitous these days and I wonder if it is something that can be taught in a theoretical framework.
For me, it was something that developed out of necessity although having a strong personality helped. It’s one thing to become hardened to life’s knocks and shocks and blunder through life in a state of numbed disassociation but can we really develop tenacity and stoicism as an applied skill?
Grit is about stickability and rigor. We didn’t talk about goals or passion. We talk about ‘gritty resolve’ to achieve something and trusting in our own ability. It’s about not relying on others to solve problems but figuring it out for ourselves. Sink or swim.
In 2012, the concept of ‘grit’ became more prominent thanks to Paul Tough’s book, ‘How children succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.’
My Dad would probably be rolling his eyes at all this analysing and labelling of what we took on as a matter of course. I can hear him saying, ‘ You get up and get on with it. What’s to talk about?’