By David Anderson
What contributes most toward achievement in both school and life.
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”
Mike Tyson, split-lip bleeding and eye-swelling author of the fighting quote above, ought to know. Variously nicknamed “Kid Dynamite,” “Iron Mike” and “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” Tyson worked his plan, taking those punches and delivering what was necessary in return, en route to becoming “No.1” – at least in the boxing ring – “in the ESPN.com list of ‘The hardest hitters in heavyweight history.’”
James Warren references the Tyson quote in his review of Sir Lawrence Freedman’s historical account of fighting – warfare – entitled, “Strategy: A History.”
The common foe, or as Warren calls it the “fundamental strategic challenge,” that is “faced by all generals and admirals, as well as boxers: No matter how sound the original plan one develops to fight a war, it‘s bound to be tested once the action is joined.”
As a matter of fact, not only general- and admiral wannabes but those who would be champions in any ring or realm of responsibility in whatever occupation, anyone at all who at any time counts himself among the living and breathing who would succeed at any task – from magnificent to mundane – must . . . must . . . have – a don’t-leave-home-without-it must-have – this one thing if no other thing, in fact the main thing, and it’s not talent.
Neither is it “IQ, social intelligence or good looks,” according to Angela Lee Duckworth, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who for 11 years has studied what does rather contribute most toward achievement in both school and life.
Grit, writes Saren Eyre Loosli who reviews Duckworth’s research in her own article entitled “The One Trait Your Children Need to be Successful,” is “passion and perseverance for a long period of time. Grit is keeping your eye on the big goals and working towards them steadily even when the immediate stuff is really hard and really not fun. Grit is living life like a marathon, not like a sprint.”
Grit is to guts, and for that matter to glory, as grits are obtained in a gristmill:
It’s a grind.
In his book “Man to Man,” Charles Swindol admonishes, “Let’s extol the virtues of sticking with something until it’s done. Of hanging tough when the excitement and fun fade into discipline and guts. You know, being just as determined eight minutes into the fourth quarter as at the kickoff. Not losing heart even though the project has lost its appeal. There is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue in our world, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship. ’I’m-getting-tired-so-let’s-just-quit mentality.’ Working through conflicts in a marriage is a tiring struggle, so we walk away. Sticking with an occupation is tough, so we start looking elsewhere.”
Grit is what got basketball legend – and outstanding free-throw shooter – Larry Bird out of bed every morning in time to practice 500 shots before he went to school, writes John C. Maxwell in his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”
Grit describes the graduate for whom “the tassel is worth the hassle.”
“‘If,’ what you are after is in fact sought after (grit) like you would seek hidden treasure, ‘then’ you’ll find it,” loosely translates an ancient proverb.
Grit: It’s a matter of ‘if’ and ‘then.’
One day as a dad I set out with our very young children on an adventure and in the process what we all discovered to our delight and uncovered literally in the ground was the ‘gold’ to be got through grit.
We lived on an island where most certainly at one time or other pirates had buried treasure along with the obligatory skull-and-crossbones (map) and ‘X’ (ground).
At least they had if I had anything to say about it.
We had just finished reading “Blackbeard’s Ghost” to our kids and in keeping with the nefarious nature of this ne’re-do-well, I filled a small chest with the sort of things pirates of the smaller sort would treasure – gold coins (foil-covered chocolate), and various and sundry trinkets and baubles.
Then I buried it. On the very edge of a cliff (small embankment), only accessible (ladder) by the very adventuresome, the exact spot was remarkably – after these many centuries (morning hours) – visible, complete with a large X scraped into the soil at the base of the gnarly old dead oak that frowned over it all.
On a dark and stormy night (warm sunny afternoon) with near-uncontrollable excitement I unrolled my discovery of an edge-charred, yellowed-and-sweat-stained parchment before my eyes-wide-with-wonder children.
It was a map. And not just any old map either. Clearly evident dead center, scrawled with gunpowder, were Blackbeard’s real-name initials themselves – “E.T.” With this astoundingly incredible find in one hand and shovel in the other, our son raced down the beach following the clues connected by the dotted lines, his more timid sisters in tow.
After explaining that the parallel lines with the hatch marks on the map were not railroad tracks, that those came much later, I suggested to the impatient little gold-seekers that they should scout about for something similar. That’s when they found the rickety ladder-like contraption ‘hidden’ against the bank.
With sisters holding, and a “are-you-sure-this-is-safe?” whisper from their ignored-mother, the bit-braver brother made his way to the top, and sure enough below the old oak tree there was the X, still, etched into the soil.
The dirt began to fly.
To this day I’ll never forget what happened next.
“Nothin’ here dad!”
“Son, if you were a pirate do you think you would have dug a shallow grave?”
After heaving a couple of half-shovel-fulls down toward his sisters below, the young treasure-hunter stopped again.
“Nothin’ here dad!”
“Maybe so. Let’s go home.”
Just the call for grit the little guy needed.
With the very next thrust of the blade there was the unmistakable resounding thud of shovel against wood.
Without even verifying the treasure chest had been discovered, our son lifted both hands high overhead, clenched fist with one, shovel silhouetted against the sky in the other and beneath the gnarly old oak tree the air was rent with a young pirate’s shout that was at the same time both a cry to raise the dead and an exultant confirmation that what had been sought had been found.
It’s not true that dead men tell no tales. We do after all leave a legacy. Long after we’re gone there’s many a grit-good story to be told and if there’s no date after the dash yet on our tombstone, let’s dig.