Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Sunday musings 8/9/15

Sunday musings…

1) Iron. The iron is always hot. Be ever ready to strike.

2) Walker. “I’m a guy with a wife and two kids and a Harley. One could call me aggressively normal.”

I like that, but I’m also struggling with it a bit. I mean, do you have to have a Harley to be normal? And what about that two kids thing?

3) Navy. Rum, as you probably know, was the traditional spirit onboard ocean going vessels for at least a couple hundred years. Rum that is particularly strong, say 57% alcohol strong, is said to be “navy strength”. If you spill it on your gunpowder, the gunpowder will still ignite.

I like everything about that.

4) Grit. In a post on last week’s “musings” that nobody saw (it was caught in the filter TWICE) I ruminated a bit on opportunity in America in response to a link on FB offered by my CrossFit friend JT, and an op-ed in the Sunday NYT. For the second week in a row a commentator is taking up space on the first page of the Review section bleating about an indelibly institutionalized LACK of opportunity the U.S.


For whatever it’s worth, I’m not going to go back to that well here today (though I will in Random Thoughts for both of you who care) except to say that you can show pretty much anything you care to simply by cherry-picking your cohort. Instead, let’s take a look at the singular ingredient necessary to seize and take advantage of opportunity when it arises: grit.

What is it that produces vastly different work products, outcomes, from similarly situated and talented individuals? Why do two equally gifted athletes similar in every way achieve at different levels? How best to explain widely disparate test scores in math, for example, from the “best and brightest” students? There is something within those who succeed at the higher level that is somehow missing in the others, or at least missing the same degree of expression. It’s likely that there are a number of words or expressions that capture this quality, but I kinda like “grit”.

Grit begins with a belief in self, a sense of self-worth, of being worthy of success. Without this first step it’s rather easy to see how anyone might just give up before ever starting. Here, as my cousin Rick has pointed out, might be a true variable when discussing opportunity: those of us who grow up in a demanding family characterized by firm boundaries, unfailing support, and high expectations may actually have an unfair advantage. People with this type of upbringing truly do believe that the iron is always hot and that they are worthy and capable of striking. Without this foundation of belief in self it’s easy to see how one might look at the same iron and think only of how not to get burned.

By the way, this is why neither poverty nor wealth is a valid predictor for success. Think of people who grew up in dismal poverty and climbed to literally dizzying heights in life, or the opposite, scions of wealth who grew up to be self-loathing under-achievers. A look in the window of the former would find an atmosphere like the one Rick describes, one in which that deep belief in yourself is instilled. The wealthy family from which opportunity is squandered is more likely one in which little or no support is offered to a child, one in which the child is continually found wanting and told as much.

To have grit one takes this core belief and puts it into action. Angela Duckworth, professor at Penn, calls passion and perseverance the two actionable components of grit. You have to want it, whatever it might be, and you have to work at making it happen; the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of people looked upon as lucky actually worked their asses off to get that way. Perseverance might very well be defined as ongoing maximal effort. One who has grit might not necessarily get the best outcome, but it’s not likely to be due to being out-worked at that thing called “it”.

An important sub-category of perseverance is resilience, and this is the final core attribute to grit. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from defeat with faith intact to resume the quest for “it”. Think about what comes to your mind when you hear someone described as “gritty”. It’s someone who has a passion, a commitment and a willingness to work toward an achievement. More than that, someone you think of as gritty has faced adversity or moved on after defeat. No one has a straight line to success; the gritty move on, secure in the knowledge that they are willing and able to do the work needed to succeed.

Grit is passion and perseverance bookended by a sense of worthiness on the front side, and the resilience to overcome setbacks on the back.  Opportunity is wasted without it.


I’ll see you next week…


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