Grit & Grace

If you’re like me when you the hear the word grit, you can’t help but think of the 1969 John Wayne classic movie True Grit. In the movie, Frank Ross is killed by his hired hand, Tom Chaney. Frank’s daughter, Maddie, wants justice, so she travels to Ft. Smith Arkansas where she hires U.S. Marshall Reuben “Rooster” J. Cogburn (John Wayne) to track down her father’s murderer. Maddie has heard that Cogburn has “true grit.”

In 2013, I attended the Complete College America conference in Salt Lake City. It was there that I first heard Angela Duckworth speak. That day she gave a talk entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth outlined her years of research regarding the subject of grit. She was determined to learn how some people were successful while others were not. She traveled to West Point to predict which students would graduate, she attended the National Spelling B and studied rookie teachers instructing under challenging circumstances to determine who would be the most effective.

In her research, she discovered that one thing stood out ahead of IQ, Social Intelligence, good looks and dozens of other factors and it was GRIT.

So, what exactly is grit? According to Duckworth, Grit is a characteristic of someone who has stamina, not for weeks or months, but years. They live life like it is a marathon, not a sprint. When asked if grit could be taught, she replied: “I think so, but I’m not exactly sure how.”

Perhaps Duckworth is overthinking it.

My father-in-law, Chester Tracy, has been a farmer for over 50 years. He started from humble beginnings in Cheyenne, OK. He settled in Maysville, OK where he has lived, raised a family and farmed. You probably know someone like Chester. Farmers work daylight to dark, seven days a week. The work never ends. I love going to the farm. Thankfully, the internet barely works, and Chester doesn’t ask for my help. There are 3 “sit down” meals every day, the nights are quiet and most evenings end with conversation around the dinner table and a fun game of UNO.

Chester started saying he retired a few years ago, which apparently irritated his wife, Pat. Chester’s idea of retirement means he now farms the land for hay and only has a few hundred heads of cattle. I suspect that Pat’s idea of retirement would include a bit more travel and fewer cows- perhaps no cows. Chester has a work ethic that we aspire for ourselves and our children. It’s a family trait for the Tracys. My wife and Chester’s daughter, Leigh Ann has a similar work ethic. All the relatives will tell you that Chester’s father worked that way too.

Is it reasonable to think that “grit” is another word for hard work? If so, isn’t it also reasonable to believe that observation and expectation can shape a person’s work ethic? I have long held onto the idea that there is no substitution for hard work and attitude.

Chester works hard; moreover, I have never heard him complain. He is full of grace – he has a right attitude. It is probably not a coincidence that Pat and Leigh Ann are also full of grace.

There is no doubt that Duckworth knows what she is talking about. Grit is undeniably a characteristic that successful people exhibit. When you couple that with an attitude of grace you get someone like Chester.

I think we can all agree that a little more grit and grace could do the world some good. Perhaps modeling those characteristics is the missing component that Duckworth is searching for.

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