One of my favorite podcasts these days is The Pitch, a Gimlet Show. It’s a less fake drama-filled version of Shark Tank where founders pitch their company to a panel of investors. One of these investors is Jillian Manus, who has an incredible story filled with life-defining moments, both good and bad. (To hear her full story, go to Episode 17 of The Pitch.)
Purpose and Perseverance
In that episode, Jillian Manus said, “grit is where purpose and perseverance connect.” You don’t forge grit by standing on the sidelines of life waiting for something exciting to happen. You forge grit by doing the difficult things, especially when there’s an easier but less ideal route around your problem.
Another word for grit is resilience. Resilience occurs when we learn to work with our failure and fear and keep pushing because something amazing is on the other side.
One of the most defining experiences of my career up unto this point was making the choice to part ways with my then business partner. When we started, I knew full well that it had a chance to fail. After all, three in five of new businesses fail in the first two years. We also weren’t having much luck finding “career” type jobs, so we figured, why not?
To respect everyone involved I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say my dreams of building a company helping Nashville small businesses wasn’t realized. We sat down in multiple coffee shops over the course of two weeks to figure out the necessities, and I haven’t seen him since then even though we lived in the same city for at least another 6 months.
I responded by trying to fix everything possible externally without acknowledging the grief of what happened. I was running away from the sucky emotional work we need to accomplish if we want to build our resilience.
A friend recommended a very simple task: to sit in it.
Sitting Is Uncomfortable
So I cracked. The walls came down. I acknowledged that this was more than a life experience. It was an emotional one. I could make the choice to ignore these feelings, or I could work through the grief and embarrassment of this experience, learn how to adapt, and do what I could to help others in the same place.
Since that time, I’ve repeated the “sit in it” method and have continued to recommend it to others. It works.
You don’t gain grit by living an easy life. You build it through trial and error, failure, and learning to live as your true self even when the path isn’t clear. Sometimes it’s by experiences you didn’t choose like illness or job loss, and sometimes it’s the choice to take the hard way through because that’s where the rewards lie.
Don’t regret making the choice to push yourself into grit-building experiences. It’s one of the most valuable ways to grow into the person you want to become.
How to Forge Grit
While forging grit isn’t an instantaneous experience, there are ways to build it so you fully utilize the work you’ve done and the experiences you’ve had to build a stronger future.
Build Relationships with Those in Similar Situations
Living through challenging circumstances encourages us to seek shelter in relationships. Your community will help you work through not around your experience even when you may not want to. Find people who are ready to help you grieve, but who are also ready to give you the kick in the pants needed to propel you forward into your next project.
And by similar situations, I don’t mean it has to be exactly the same. I can learn from someone experiencing a different kind of loss and demonstrating their resilience as much as (or more) than someone in the same exact situation. The essential piece of this is that we’re building relationships with those who can help us process the array of emotions we’re experiencing.
When my former business partner and I chose to part ways, I showed up (almost) unannounced at a friend’s house and she let me grieve and talked and prayed through the experience with me both that night and in the months following. She may not have been in the exact situation as I was, but she has experienced the heartache of plans not succeeding and overcoming immense personal challenges in her career.
This similarity helped us help each other through various work-related challenges since then, and it’s led to some of my favorite memories since then.
You need relationships, and you need the brutal honesty and support that comes from them. I don’t often give ultimatums like this, but this is one of them. Without relationships, we’ll continue to drown in the waves of change and failure without truly growing and learning.
View Your Mountain as Surmountable
Once you take time to grieve over the change of plans, whatever it might be, it’s time to realign your mindset.
While feelings of doubt and uncertainty are certainly okay in the beginning, remember that your attitude is everything. Viewing your mountain as surmountable helps you realize that yes, you really can do it. You can overcome your challenges and experience the joy that comes from forging grit the only way possible: by not backing down.
The climb may seem like it’s taking all your perseverance and all your strength, but keep moving forward. The grit you’re building now will serve you well in your future. Instead of focusing on how hard the task ahead of you is, focus on how it can help you reach those goals in the future.
This mindset shift may be all you need to start building resilience instead of bitterness.
Accept That Change Is Inevitable
Adapting to change is the only way we’ll thrive through building resilience. If we don’t change, then we won’t grow. Instead of fighting the inevitable, focus on how we can make the adaptation process as smooth as possible.
This means surrounding yourself in community, readying yourself for changes you may not like at first, and learning to thrive in the discomfort. Goals you may have had six months ago are no longer attainable, but that doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming.
Consider what you enjoy, what’s currently possible, and what your ideal, dream situation would be. When we accept and adapt, we’re more likely thrive. Instead of mourning what was, think about the exciting things that are ahead of you. Getting to those goals involves tenacity and hard work, but it’s possible.
Take Some Time to Be Selfish
Because being selfish in this circumstance is a healthy thing to be, With some caveats. This isn’t how we should always live. We need to live gracious lives serving others with our skills and abilities, but we can’t do that if we’re running on empty. The phrase, “self care isn’t selfish” is probably coming to mind right now. Self-centeredness is only good and helpful when done the right way, and is particularly important when we’re working through a trying time and significant life changes.
Get away for a day (or a weekend), spend time in silence with your phone on “do not disturb”, and meditate on your emotions, dreams, and the changes that have brought you to this point. Don’t be afraid of emotion. You need to process experiences in order to forge the grit that will help you reach every goal you set.
Journal, create, read… whatever you need to do in order to get your flow back. A few weeks ago I did just that, and instead of preparing an episode, I thought about what I wanted to become, the type of work I wanted to put out, and how I could best accomplish those goals.
I spent time with a friend in a similar life place, read from and did some of the exercises in The Artisan Soul (no one should be surprised by this point. I promise I’m not getting paid based on the number of times I mention it), and put pen to paper to figure out what I wanted the next few years to look like. Instead of giving myself to others in the form of a podcast episode (as much as I enjoy it) I chose instead of refill my cup so I could spend the week as a better coworker, account manager with clients, friend, and significant other.
Make this a regular occurrence, too. Don’t wait so long that you get to the breaking point before investing this time. Instead, commit to spending time alone and working on passion projects, life goals, or imagining your future. (Or all of the above.)
Once we do this, we can find our way through with a renewed sense of grit ready to thrive in whatever life brings.
Set Goals and Work Towards Them
If you’ve listened to a few episodes by this point you know I’m a big fan of breaking a seemingly unreachable goal into smaller goals. You don’t go out one day and run a marathon. (Or if you do… we need to talk.) You slowly build your mileage, strength, and mental will over the course of the training cycle so you can thrive on race day.
Life and career goals are the same way. Launching a company is a long process that involves behind-the-scenes work no one truly appreciates unless they’ve been there as well. It’s an iceberg with a tip of resilience that’s the result of many months and years of hard work and failures.
Work on a piece of your goal every day. Life is improved by small daily actions that add up into success, and goals are the same way. Break it up into chunks that are easily finished, and keep a record of everything you’ve accomplished. Use that list as motivation. You’ve come too far to back down now. Your grit is here, and it’s time to do something great.
Don’t Let Fear Win
Sometimes, even though you’ve done everything “right”, there are still problems. Plans end up with a “Did Not Finish” across them, and you just want to get off the course of life and hide for a bit. It’s okay to hide, but don’t spend your life that way.
Fear is a constant visitor in life, especially when you’re going beyond the norm and creating something new. It’s time to stop living within the fear and instead use it to fuel lives of creativity.
When we live in fear, we will not live out our true calling and will avoid stewarding our talents in the way we should.
We were born creative, and it’s up us to forge grit through the experiences where it’s easier to sit this one out. It’s worth the frustration and grieving and sadness in order to experience what’s ahead. Changes are made when you push beyond what you thought you could handle, and the rewards will always be greater on the other side.