As I sit on the side of the bed every morning waiting for my body to come to equilibrium with the world, I scan my news sources looking for information, insight, and hopefully, inspiration. This was a pretty interesting week. At this time of the year it’s impossible to escape March Madness, but a story by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post caught my attention and pulled me away from college basketball.
Jenkins asked, “What is it about student athletes that make them successful?”
She cites Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania who describes “grit” as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals,” and how it “enables you to be in an uncomfortable place for a good part of your day and get up the next day and do it all over again,”
“Huh”, I thought, “that describes a lot of us with physical, emotional, or mental challenges.” We’re in an uncomfortable place most, or maybe even all of our days, and yet, we just get up and hit it again the next day.
I saw my friend Laurie Turner at work the other day. Laurie has Stage 4 breast cancer, but if you couldn’t tell from the hats she wears every day you wouldn’t have any idea that she’s 5 weeks into chemo therapy with surgery and radiation ahead of her. Laurie has never lost her big smile and I often hear her laugh from far down the hallway. She is still a regular at Cross-Fit, giving herself a pass on some things, but also turning out new personal bests.
Duckworth’s research is about kids being persistent and overcoming challenges to be successful in school and life, but I would describe Laurie as “gritty” too. She has the mindset of deliberate practice to work hard every day and beat her cancer. There is no doubt that Duckworth would call Laurie a “paragon of grit.” (See Duckworth’s TEDtalk)
Wednesday’s OregonLive ran an article about Bill Johnson, an Alpine skier who won a gold medal at the 1984 Salt Lake City Olympics. At 40, Johnson attempted a comeback but a high-speed crash left him with a traumatic brain injury. Ten years later he had a stroke and now, at 55 he’s in an assisted living facility with a badly deteriorating body. On his birthday he was surrounded by friends and received video messages from younger skiers that he has influenced. He has a hard time talking because he is constantly coughing and choking, but wakes up with a positive attitude, and my guess is that he is certainly “gritty” too, because, if he could, I think he’d still like one more race.
That Bill Johnson and Laurie Turner maintain positive attitudes is in part at least, a testament to the family and friends that have stuck with them. When I read stories like this I’m so grateful to be able to work and go on field trips like the one I helped organize recently near Sisters, Ore. with the help of so many good friends and colleagues, like Doug Johnson. I’m grateful always for my wife Yvonne, who just like everyone else, puts my pants on one leg at a time. That’s how the phrase goes, right?
Jenkins article got me thinking about “grit” and the many people in my life and who I have encountered in my journey who embody that notion. There is no more long-term goal than recovery and healing and so kudos to those of you all who, like me, wake up each morning uncomfortable, but grin and greet the world anyway.