This week I came across the WhyDev.org podcast, Mission Creep. While still new (and not as slickly produced as say, NPR) Mission Creep is refreshing to listen to, as it brings mid-level aid professionals together to discuss “fresh and frank” development issues. I appreciated the non-Amero-centric views and diverse newspaper and website references (who loves the Guardian? I do).
In their January 2015 podcast, they discussed a recent article about grit. Specifically, how (and if?) grit is a good way to measure a successful development professional.
As they were discussing grit, it reminded me of a talk I listened to last year by Angela Lee Duckworth (link to a short video version here). Sure enough, they bring her up later on in the episode.
According to Ms. Duckworth, grit is “passion and perseverance for very long term goals, […] having stamina, […] sticking with your future day in day out […] and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Everyone knows people in their lives who have grit, whether or not you call it that. They are the ones who stick with something long after it seemed prudent to stop. The ones who work harder than anyone else, hustle faster, show up earlier, stay longer, practice more.
My high school best friend has grit: she farms with her dad, owns her own business and fosters eleven puppies in the middle of winter when they were literally thrown away by someone else. When we played volleyball in high school, she hustled after every stray ball, even into the bleachers, even as her elbows and knees bled. I’ve never known someone to work as hard as she does.
The article suggests that the concept of grit is better than resiliency to evaluate if a person will be a successful manager of development projects. Resiliency, woefully over-used yet still an industry favorite, basically means ‘the ability to bounce back after setbacks’ or ‘rolling with the punches’. Did half your staff just quit? Did you indicators just double? Did your donor reduce funding? Did the lights just go off?
The hosts were quick to define grit and resiliency at odds with one another. On the one hand, grit equalled ‘pushing through’ and ‘not adapting’. On the other, resiliency was a how one changed, or rolled with it. The problem is, these things are not mutually exclusive. You have to have grit to stay in the dark while you figure out an alternative way to get the lights back on. You have to have grit to attend yet another meeting that has been co-opted by the grandstanding government official to eventually meet the right person who can push your project forward. You have to have grit to tell someone they are not getting any more grant funding unless they can show you where the previous funds went even if you have that money burning a hole in your budget and HQ keeps yammering on about NICRA.
Granted, it’s only a thirty minute podcast, but I felt like their framing of these two concepts was off. Grit doesn’t mean be a jerk, it just means “Do the hard things.” That doesn’t mean you’re not changed by them. It doesn’t mean you don’t roll with the punches. It doesn’t mean you don’t cry internally (and sometimes externally, alone, in your office, at 8:05 am). It simply means that you show up, time and time again, and again, even when stuff gets hard. Grit is what keeps you there, while Resiliency asks "What's Next?"
Does grit equal inflexibility? Inadaptability? I don’t think so. I think grit and resiliency are closer cousins than academics would have us believe. It’s easier to gravitate towards the term grit because it’s colloquial; we can all identify. If Ms. Duckworth had been talking about resiliency, I would’ve never remembered her podcast or identified my best friend in her description.
Do I have use grit all the time? No way. In fact, I think that’s a pretty good way to burn out. Same with being resilient – even the most flexible things can break. I recently came across a great quote by Nelson Mandela: “Quitting is leading, too”. As someone who doesn’t thinks she’s had much grit lately, I love this. Both quitting and hanging tight have their moments; it’s only the timing of when and how that we have to perfect.
Grit and resiliency are both tools we need to survive or successful at, well, anything. Jobs. Earthquakes. Marriages. Children. Just the way we sometimes need to be supple and forgiving, thankful and proud, fun-loving and hard-nosed. I love the idea of grit, I love the idea of resiliency. Do we really need to pick?
What do you think?