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Got Grit?

Oct 25, 2023

It’s hour 12 of a 16-hour day. Patience is as low as the sun in the sky. I am sitting behind my desk, on the receiving end of someone else’s misplaced anger. Intentionally making their voice boom louder, heads started peeking out from behind office doors and cubicle walls spread out across a large open floor.

Partially in shock at this explosion from a peer and fellow leader, and partially furious at their words, I genuinely had no desire to engage. In that moment, however, I had to choose my response with no time to weigh the options. I stood up. I stood up to combat the condescension. I stood up to refute false claims. I stood up to defend my team and our decisions. I stood up to say no to the orders they were barking.

Unnerved by my response, the verbal attack fueled by insecurity, ego, and a loss of control, continued until it was clear that acquiescence was not in my plans. They eventually stormed off leaving me to stare out at the onlookers, who were aghast at the toxicity present in their midst.

Grit became a buzzword a few years back and it caught on like wildfire. The word itself became the title of important books on psychology and behavior. This descriptor for the powerful combination of passion and perseverance became a sought-after trait for those of us seeking valuable lessons from others who overcame obstacles and achieved success despite unacceptable conditions.  

I fear, however, that it also became a cross to bear.

Grit powered my career in many ways. Purpose-driven professionals understand that. We believe strongly in the work that we do, our passion often functions as the builder, constructing meaningful outcomes, and we forge ahead through both dark and triumphant times, outlasting many who call us crazy. But it’s easy for this blend of passion and perseverance to take over, becoming our only option.

Grit is something that can always be there, simmering below the surface and erupting like a solar flare when times get tough. But that’s not how we’re called upon to exercise our grit. It’s become a 24/7 modus operandi. Maybe out of necessity due to today’s work environments. Maybe out of our desire to project an image society likes to see. Either way, we need to reframe our relationship with it.

After a stunned colleague hurriedly made their way to my office and closed the door, I sat down realizing I had only one option – to surrender. Not to the person. Not to the unacceptable rant. Not to the demands. I had to surrender to that which I could not change. No matter my grit, my tenacity, my drive, my belief in the mission, I would never change that which was outside of my ability to change. While I could manage my response to it, no amount of passion and perseverance was going to produce an environmental shift so dramatic that the cultural norms would prevent these occurrences. Nothing would change this person.

And you know what? That’s okay. I didn’t lose my grit by surrendering. I didn’t lose my ability to work harder, be better, or outlast. Instead, surrendering gave me power. The power to redirect my focus, with grit as the tool in my toolbox to forge a new path. I could say that grit enabled me to pursue a new environment with new responsibilities and a new focus, while staying true to my purpose. But if I hadn’t surrendered, and instead kept persevering through a toxic situation, my grit would have been wasted.

Grit and surrender can and should coexist.

Knowing when to surrender while maintaining an unshakable confidence in your value and belief in your purpose is an art and a science that requires self-reflection and practice. But allowing yourself the freedom to surrender the burden of persevering no matter the cost to you, is quite possibly the most important gift you’ll give your gritty self.

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