How Grit Makes You a Better Leader
Patrick Nelson, April 10, 2017
I dropped out of college two days after 9/11 to join the Army. I had no idea that in the next seven years I’d serve as a paratrooper, deploy three times to Iraq and Afghanistan, and survive a near-death experience when my team was involved in a targeted rocket attack in which the two soldiers standing next to me were killed.
Following active duty, I didn’t have a clear transition plan and I faced a host of challenges, including PTSD, an addiction to the prescription drugs I was taking for my wounds, and unemployment. To say that those were some of the lowest times of my life would be an understatement. When I share my story with others, they often wonder what powered me through this difficult time. I have one answer to that question: Grit.
Grit isn’t a mysterious skill that you are either born with or without. It can be developed. Noted researcher and author on grit, Angela Duckworth, defines grit as a special blend of passion and persistence for one’s goals. Grit is what helps determine who will make it through West Point and who wins a spelling bee. Grit is also what helps the smaller athlete excel in a game of giants.
I’ve met many professionals who are up against challenges. They don’t have rockets flying towards them, but their problems are very real and can seem insurmountable. Whether it’s facing a new task that seems overwhelming or confronting challenges in your personal life, everyone encounters adversity. To help you develop grit and overcome challenges and meet your goals, try some of these steps:
Pursue your passion. It’s much easier to work hard toward something when you are passionate about it. You can also find your passion outside of your paying “gig.” Ellen DeGeneres earned a paycheck as a paralegal and bartender prior to being a paid comedian.
Get outside your comfort zone. You might have to do things outside of your comfort zone or face some of your fears. Maybe you need to go back to school to advance, or maybe you need to move out of the city to have a more balanced life. Change can be uncomfortable, but it’s often an important ingredient to goal accomplishment.
Surround yourself with the right people. My journey would have been exponentially more difficult if I didn’t surround myself with people who supported me. As Sebastian Junger points out in his book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” many Veterans return from war and feel isolated. The tribe of people who I surrounded myself with would not let me isolate myself and always pushed me through my struggles. I am better by surrounding myself with people who built me up, not pushed me down.
Find your purpose. We all have a purpose. Some of us just may not have found it yet. I struggled mightily with this when I left the military. I lost the sense of selflessness and service that I had when I was in the Army. Thankfully, I was able to reignite my passion and shift my purpose to continue serving others, just in a different capacity. To help find your purpose, let your values and what you hold dearly guide you. Are you not sure of what those are? Check out this resource (click on Chapter 2) Lead Star has developed to help you reflect on them some more.
We all face challenges daily, both big and small. Start working on developing your grit so you can overcome those and live the life that you aspire towards.