Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Grit

My sons,

Much has been said on the topic of grit, perseverance, and persistence. In fact, I’m sure I’m devoted some (or much!) time toward the topic myself. However, today I want to talk about the point at which grit and perseverance become negative. Today I want to talk with you about when too much grit becomes an inhibitor to change.

But first, let’s talk about grit and its benefits. There have been many books, expositories, and beautifully inspiring tales of grit as a noble and victorious trait. As men, these tales give us hope and motivate us to follow their example. We often hear stories where perseverance in love, in the epic journey, in business, and in friendship is described not just as a wonderful trait but as the wonderful trait.

In business grit is seen as an incredibly valuable and rare trait. We have all heard the successful startup founder who only survived past the hardships of startup culture because of the grit that allowed them to ignore the naysayers and press on when others might (and in fact did) turn back. We are taught to persist, to persevere, and to stick to our guns. We are told that being the last person standing on a sinking ship is a noble and honorable thing and is something that will be rewarded. We often witness these stories being used to depict loyalty and determination, two great traits of leadership.

In love we are told that we must fight through thick and thin for our partner. As men, we are told that women want to know that we will be steadfast in our devotion to them. Even the Bible tells us the story of Jacob working 14 years to earn the hand of his beloved Rachel.

So how can I possibly think that too much grit may be bad?

The short answer is that by having too much grit, we may miss out on something that matches us much better. By sticking with what we’ve got regardless of the situation, we may inadvertently miss something that is a much better fit. This is an age old dilemma, and I’m certainly not saying that we should always be on the lookout for something better. Rather, I am suggesting that there are many nuances here for us to think through, many concepts, factors, and considerations for us to keep in balance.

EVERY CHOICE HAS AN OPPORTUNITY COST

For every choice we do make there is the cost of the possibilities that we didn’t choose. The choice of staying with what we’ve got, of having grit to stick it out is still a choice, and still has a cost associated with it. Having too much grit may cause us to stay with something that we ought to be seeing instead as a learning opportunity for a short period of time, after which we ought to move on.

Let’s take love as an example here. There are many good reasons why we should have grit and “dance with the are that brung ya”. First, let’s be crystal clear on this point - BE LOYAL AND FAITHFUL. There is a deeper circle in hell for cheaters and disloyal people. In love, we must be honorable men.

That notwithstanding, there is much we learn from each romantic endeavor, and the experiences we have and the mistakes we make ultimately help us grow and learn so that we can evolve as people. Having too much grit and staying too long then becomes a hindrance for our growth.

The million dollar question then, is how do we know when we ought to stay and when we ought to go? How do we know when we’ve hit that threshold and need to move on? A few thoughts on that one.

CHECK THE FIT

This one is going to sound a bit like I’m simply saying to use your intuition. That’s because that’s basically what I’m suggesting. Our intuition is a collection of wisdom our bodies collect from a wide range of sources. Intuition comes from our subconscious processing a wide range of experiences, inputs, thoughts, and feelings that we may not consciously realize, which is why it is so important for us to have range. Our intuition is our whole being - not just our conscious mind - coming together to provide direction or what we ought to do. Trust it.

Chances are, if it looks like the pieces don’t fit and if it feels like you’re trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, they don’t, and you are.

SEEK ADVICE FROM TRUSTED ADVISORS

There are cheerleaders in our lives that are always on our side, who will always sympathize with us, who will laugh with us, cry with us, be angry with us, and take on the world with us. I’m not talking about these people.

Rather, I’m talking about people of wisdom, of character, and of proven ability who can offer sound and unbiased advice. People who have demonstrated their care for you, who know your values and are respectful of them in their advice. Advisors.

CHECK THE PAIN

Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something’s not right. while I’m not saying to run at the first sign of pain, I am saying that pain is a good indicator that something needs to be adjusted. Pay attention to that. Certainly different people have different pain tolerances, and there are circumstances in life that may require a higher tolerance than normal, but in general pain is a good measure to pay attention to.

My boys, if there’s one thing I want for you it is to live a well balanced life. One that has grit but also allows for change, for new experiences of learning. One that is filled with love but has also experienced the loss and heartbreak that teaches us a deeper and richer appreciation and experience of that love. I love you boys!


My sons,

It’s easy to look at the world around us and see its many flaws and many weaknesses. It’s easy to see the hatred, the racism, the sexism, the anger, the suspicion - it’s easy to look at all that and decide to keep your head down and mind your own business.

And no one would fault you for that.

We live in a world where people are expected to cower, to keep their voices down, and to do the bare minimum to appease their own consciences, often with little to no impact.

I implore you to choose a different path.

I recently read a beautiful speech from the 26th president of these United States, Theodore Roosevelt, which has since come to be known as The Man in the Arena. It reads:

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs,
who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.

Yes, there are many ways in which we have fallen. Yes, there are many unspeakable acts and unimaginable crimes that have been committed, and even sanctioned in our lifetimes. Yes, we are surrounded by imperfection in this fallen world.

But let us stop standing on the sidelines watching idly as others struggle and fight in our stead. Let us never stop picking ourselves back up and getting back into the arena. Let us fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Let us speak up for the voiceless. Let us defend the defenseless. Let us bring hope to the hopeless.

Let us let shine the nobility of the human spirit; that spark within us that when pressed enables us to stand courageous with a courage we didn’t know existed.

I love you, my boys. I pray that when you are old enough to understand these words, that you will find your father in the arena, that he will be standing side by side and back to back with men and women that he loves and loves him, and - most of all - that you will join them in the arena and fight together.


My sons,

We are, as a society, largely concerned with goals and milestones. We are greatly focused on hitting the next checkpoint, the next marker on the path towards the target, the journey that we’ll need to take to get there.

And yet we never talk about what happens once we do in fact, get there, wherever that happens to be.

I absolutely love grand, epic stories. I love reading about the internal struggle that the hero must overcome in order to be victorious against the external. I love that epic ending, that dramatic finish. And yet something that often gets missed is what happens afterwards. The evil king is overthrown and the people come back to power. The hero slays the dragon and saves the princess. The long lost son returns home. The aliens are defeated and the world is saved. The crisis is averted, and the world returns to normal. Roll credits.

What these stories never mention is what happens afterwards, in the years following victory! What happens when there are no more foes to defeat, no more hills to climb, no more beachheads to conquer?

The truth is that we don’t write books or make movies about that part because it’s boring. It’s unremarkable. We want the adrenaline rush that culminates in the big resolve after the final conflict.

But life isn’t just about that.

In fact, I’ll argue that most of life isn’t about that at all, and instead of those mountaintop experiences where the camera pans out behind us and depicts the grand and epic army ahead of us to conquer, most of life is actually spent in the valleys where one patch of flowers is indistinguishable from the countless others.

While character traits like courage and boldness are needed on the mountaintops, it is character traits like persistence, grit, resolve, and collaboration that are needed in the valleys. These are the traits that allow us to persevere, that allow us to slow down and run the long race. These are traits that move us from a place of reaching for the latest and the greatest, the glitzy and the glamorous, to a place where we can be content and satisfied being right where we are.

There are a number of reasons why we ought to have this change in perspective:

  1. By removing our hyper focus on the top of the mountain and allowing ourselves to pan out and see the surrounding landscape, we’ll see many things that we weren’t able to notice before. Things that may not have seemed important, or may be smaller in comparison. Things that didn’t stand out, or weren’t clearly in focus. We’ll be able to see these things, and we’re able to derive joy from them.
  2. We’re able to see people. Often our hyper focus on the goal causes us forget that there are people around us that are affected by our actions, and that need our attention, support, and care. Shifting our focus allows us to see these people more clearly.
  3. We’re able to sustain our pace. Life is not a sprint; it is a marathon. By learning to persevere and persist in times when your adrenaline isn’t rushing and flooding your system, we’re able to pace ourselves and sustain. The long game doesn’t only require the ability to run fast; it requires the discipline to know when to push hard and when to relax and recover. It calls for balance and for wellness. It demands rest.

While I’m not at all saying that we shouldn’t reach for the stars and strive for the mountaintops, I do believe it is equally important that we learn how to slow down, and more importantly, how to tell when we need to switch between the two.

Because while it’s the mountaintops that offer breathtakingly epic views, it’s in the valleys that the flowers grow.

And so my prayer for you boys is that not only will you encourage each other to run and push as hard as you can when it is appropriate to do so, but that you can also rest, rejuvenate, slow down, and take the time to see the details of what’s going around you.


My sons,

Over the past few years, we’ve spent a bunch of time talking about the grand and the lofty. We’ve talked about attributes and character traits that are expansive, traits that encourage big picture thinking and visioning. Today we’re going to talk about something quite different and yet just as important, if not more so.

Mankind was created to move forward. We were made with this celestial imprint on our lives that drives us to dream, to innovate, to invent, and to create. But sometimes, the path to get there isn’t easy, and is filled with hardship, with opposition, with trials, and with people who would see us fail. It is a truism that our lives will not be easy, and it is a certainty that when we endeavor to elevate our thoughts and actions that we will face opposition that will attempt to pull us back down.

It is in those times that we need to have grit.

Grit is the ability to dig deep and to persist in your endeavors. It is the ability to remain steadfast in your convictions and your beliefs, and to stay on the path that you’ve determined to travel. It is the trait that enables us not to give up, not to abandon our aim, no matter how hard things get.

That’s not to say that being stubborn and set in the path that you’re taking excuses all else. Being steadfast doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and doesn’t give us permission to treat others without respect. Quite the contrary - having grit says that not only do we stick to our path, but we stick to our character as we hold the line.

There are those that abandon their posts when the going gets rough. Of those that don’t, there are those that stay and yet complain about it and have a poor attitude towards everyone, believing that because of their resoluteness, they have the right to look down on others.

And then there are those that stay and elevate the situation and all those around them. They stay the course; both the course that they’ve physically set out on, as well as the course to maintain their integrity and their values while the trials come.

That’s grit.

Not the people who can endure any hardship, but the people who can endure those hardships without compromising their beliefs, their integrity, their character, their praiseworthiness.

And that’s my prayer for the both of you. Life will get hard; there is no doubt about that. But my prayer is that not only will you be able to stay the course, but that you will be unwavering in your moral character as you do.


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