Research from Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, shows if there is one predictor of success, it’s something called grit. By her definition, grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” One way to develop grit is to fail, and to learn and grow from those failures. Thinking about how grit applies to my life, I realized I’ve failed a lot. Below are the failures that stuck with me and made me a little grittier.
In fourth grade, I got an “F” on a test about telling time on an analog clock.
This particular failure is a classic millennial problem, I know, but my first bad grade had a huge impact on me. Even though I wasn’t great at telling time, I didn’t think I needed to make an effort to study this subject with which I struggled. I had done well on past tests, so why bother studying for this one? At ten years old, I learned that I’m allowed to admit that I’m not perfect, and people around me won’t offer help unless I ask for it.
In high school, I played tennis.
Growing up a swimmer, I am painfully uncoordinated in any sport on land. To avoid burning out, I tried tennis. I was bad. I was really, really bad! But I did it for a whole season, then I tried something else. After short sojourns in tennis, track and field, and soccer, I returned to the pool to happily swim for six more years. Participating in an activity in which I wasn’t the best helped me realize that being the best isn’t always the goal.
In college, I sprained my ankle because I was texting while walking down a flight of stairs.
I often cite this incident as my most embarrassing moment. I fell down several stairs in front of dozens of people, limped with tears streaming down my face to the dining hall, and had to be carried the rest of the way to the athletic trainer. I spent days on crutches and weeks in a boot—all for a text message! In today’s connected world, staying “connected” isn’t always our best option. I’m still learning to reign in my impatience, but when I feel the urge to pull out my phone in the car or on the sidewalk, I think of my humiliating tumble and remember that the reward is never worth the risk.
Last summer, I didn’t say “I love you” when I meant it.
Last year, trying to play it cool with someone I hadn’t known very long, I refrained from saying the L-word. I knew very early on that I loved this person, but not wanting to seem overzealous in a relatively new relationship, I kept it to myself. Our relationship has been over for several months, but I still get pangs of guilt knowing I didn’t share how I really felt. I’ve learned that emotions should travel a two-way street, no matter how awkward you may feel. If someone feels strongly about me (whether love or anything else), I want to know! And the same is likely true for those I feel strongly about in return.
This past spring, I showed up to a presentation without the presentation.
I drove to a presentation with a client out of town, began setting up my materials, and realized both my laptop and backup flash drive were still at my desk in Fargo. I was able to get a hold of the presentation, but the whole ordeal was hugely embarrassing and unprofessional. What I primarily took from the experience is an awareness of my mindfulness (or lack thereof). Spending time thinking too far ahead or whiling away the minutes reminiscing about past occurrences don’t really matter. “There is no time like the present,” and I am doing my best to adjust my behavior as such. When I am mindful of the present moment, I will be less likely to forget important materials, and more likely to enjoy moments as they happen.
Dr. Duckworth doesn’t know yet whether you’re born with a certain amount of grit, or even a specific formula to develop it in a person. What I know is that my lifetime certainly hasn’t seen its last failure. But thanks to the grit I’ve developed in my first 25 years, I’m ready for whatever disaster comes next.
About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.