The first time I saw Bonnie Raitt in concert was 1973, two years after she released her debut album, Bonnie Raitt. I saw her many times over the years. The last time was two years ago, in Portland.
In a career spanning over than 4 decades, Raitt recorded 17 albums and played thousands of gigs. Yet by the time she gained mainstream recognition, she had been performing and recording for 20 years. In 1990, half way into her career, that she won her first Grammy for Nick of Time.
Bonnie Raitt epitomizes the blues. And she’s also the epitome of grit.
The dictionary defines grit as “courage and resolve; strength of character.” As a psychology trait, grit means perseverance of effort, like Bonnie Raitt, who worked her craft and doggedly pursued what she loved, without reward or recognition.
Grit is a mixture of drive, conscientiousness, and resilience. It’s the ability to delay easy gratification for long term success or satisfaction, to stick with something difficult, and to make meaning out of obstacles.
Why does grit matter?
Grit is important. Consider this:
- Students who are praised for effort and not for intelligence do better when they encounter challenges than students who believe they are innately smart or talented.
- A West Point Military Academy cadet’s “grit score” was the best predictor of success in their summer training program –better than intelligence, leadership ability or physical fitness.
- The young children who were better at deferring gratification in the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment tended to be more successful as adults across a range of outcomes: school, careers, marriage, and even body mass index scores.
The trend in research, from health to psychology to education, is towards the value of grit, hard work, self-control, and deferral of pleasure, all of which, more than IQ, test scores, or self-esteem, prove to be a key to health and development.
Grit research shows just how much we need challenge and difficulty for growth. In fact, the right dose of stress and challenge is necessary for growth.
We see grit as one of the three pillars to developing personal power.
- Grit is the ability to embrace what’s hard, to wrestle with an obstacle, and to snatch the learning out of a challenge.
- Grit involves courage, doing something difficult, and facing the fact that you could fail, be laughed at or criticized.
- Grit means resilience, picking yourself up after defeat or discouragement.
- Grit is love of learning and prizing your own growth. It means knowing that no matter what, you will learn and grow from every challenge. Even if the challenge gets the best of you, you win when you’ve grown.
Grit is one of the three main pillars of personal power because your personal powers are those that enable you to thrive across all contexts. Precisely because personal power doesn’t depend on anyone else’s perception, a social hierarchy, or an organizational chart, they are the most rock solid powers you have.
To thrive and prosper across all contexts, to adapt to constantly changing environments, you need grit.
The challenge with your name on it: your worthy opponent
Each new context is challenging because of your worthy opponent. Your worthy opponent is the challenge with your name on it. It’s the person who drives you crazy, the issue that ties you up in knots, the bad mood that defeats you before you even get out of bed, the boss who makes you tongue-tied, the reaction that undermines your impact, and the colleague gunning for your job.
Your worthy opponent is there to bring out the best in you. You already know your worthy opponent brings out the worst in you. But when you have grit, you can embrace its challenge, knowing that within it lurks the very next and needed step in your development.
Life is about learning. We’re here to evolve. And grit is what it takes to do so. Growing is not easy. It takes courage and fortitude to liberate the learning out of a nasty problem, to look at yourself and see what you could have done better, and to look into the eyes of your worthy opponent and discover why you need that challenge in your life right now.
How do you grow your grit? What worthy opponents are in your life, offering you the next step in your development?