The academic community has greeted grit with a degree of breathless enthusiasm.
People have been applauding grit as the trait among traits that helps people persevere.
But too much perseverance can be costly. One study demonstrated how grittier individuals might incur some costs by persisting when they could move on. Lucas, the primary researcher, explored grit through the lens of test taking. She found that certain students might not want to give up on solving more difficult questions, to the detriment of answering simpler questions or completing the test, and would end up performing more poorly on the test than predicted.
In short, students would not fare nearly as well on their tests if they had simply stopped, reassessed, and tried something else.
There but for the grace of grit go I.
The other downside to grit that nobody is talking about is a more existential one. Grit can lead to us being unkind to ourselves. In my experience, grit without compassion is just cruelty. If we’re listening to the mean voice inside our head, allowing it to insult and punish us in the name of success, then we are doing something wrong.
Because at the core of the inner critic is shame, and nobody has ever shamed themselves into being the person they want to be. Ever.
As a recovering workaholic, my tendency was always to mistake the inner critic for a sense of discipline. To clobber myself with criticism out of fear of becoming a slacker. That gritty mentality allowed me to uphold my insanely high standards and achieve more than anyone thought humanly possible at a very young age.
The only problem is, those intolerable conditions only ratcheted up with every new year, creating longer hours, greater fatigue, dysfunctional relationships and several stress related illnesses. All in the name of grit.
Because that’s what you do, our culture preaches to us. We pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and work harder and hustle and do whatever it takes to push through.
It’s a nice motivational poster, but without compassion, it’s a false victory.
What good is winning if you’re too sore tired at the end of the race to hold up the trophy, and too isolated to have anyone to share it with?
Here’s an achievement that’s worth pursuing. Learning when to let go and stop fighting. There’s real bravery in that, despite it being unrewarded by our culture.
Because it’s not giving up, it’s setting boundaries. It’s not abandonment, it’s permission. It’s a conscious choice to not do something, loving yourself in the process, and trusting that even if you quit, the world will still be there when you return.
Look, that mean voice inside our heads is not going anywhere. It’s wired into our brains evolutionarily. And that’s okay. Maybe real grit is learning to cohabitate with that inner critic like a bad roommate.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Is grit activating a mean voice inside your head that makes you over think everything?