Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Five Characteristics of High-Grit People

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What starts as an interview with a rough cowboy named True Grit becomes a life-threatening and life-changing adventure. Instead of defining or explaining the importance of Grit in life, spend an afternoon with True Grit himself. This short story will clarify the Five Key Ways people with Grit approach life and the world.

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During the presidential campaign of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin while leaving his hotel in Milwaukee. Before lodging in his chest, the bullet passed through Roosevelt’s metal eyeglass case and a 50-page speech folded in his breast pocket. When he did not start coughing up blood, Roosevelt concluded the bullet had not penetrated his lung. He continued on to the auditorium and delivered his speech.

His address began with these words:

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. … The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”

His speech lasted 90 minutes.

JBrazito (Creative Commons)

JBrazito (Creative Commons)

Theodore Roosevelt was a bull moose of a man. He had Grit—an indomitable spirit. A bullet in the chest was a minor setback. What separates high-Grit people like Roosevelt from others?

Here are five characteristics I’ve noticed in high-Grit people that allow them to face life’s challenges with courage:

1) They have a long-term perspective

Gritty people are not near-sighted. They are not enamored with immediate return on investment. They are willing to wait before they cash in. They know today’s effort is an investment in the future. They accomplish great things because they are willing to work on them for a long time.

This reality is often hidden behind our 24-hour media cycle. When we see a director on Letterman talking about his new hit film, we envy his fame and influence. We long to switch places. However, we don’t see the decade he labored to bring the story to the big screen—

writing the script,
shopping for investors,
giving up hope,
rewriting the script,
seeking investors a second time,
risking his own reputation and financial solvency,
filming 18 hour days,
editing from sunset to sunrise.

We don’t see what he gave to get on Letterman’s couch. We only see the end result. It took James Cameron 15 years to create Avatar. But high-Grit people know that’s what it takes to succeed.

2) They don’t quit

Behind every success is a moment of doubt—a point when quitting appears the best option. The difference between the Bull Moose and average Joe is the Moose keeps charging.

Even though it costs to keep going in the face of failure, high-grit people recognize cost of quitting too. They will push through thorns, suffer insults, and ignore exhaustion for the value of tomorrow. They won’t sell the future for an easier present.

[tweet_quote]Gritty people face the same temptation to quit we all do. They just don’t listen it.[/tweet_quote] They keep going. They would rather die trying than stop trying. And that’s why they usually reach the finish line.

3) They delay gratification

High-grit people are immune to the power of “now.” As two-year olds, we are not able to wait more than 5 seconds without crying out, “Give me now!” Some of us grow up. Some of us never change.

Our dominant culture is propelled by instant-gratification—at the bank, in the kitchen, at work, in the bedroom. “Drive now, pay later!” The ethos of this generation is “Why wait?”

Well, gritty people know why. Because an investment today becomes a fortune tomorrow. Pain today becomes power tomorrow. [tweet_quote]Those who limit themselves “now” have endless possibilities “then.”[/tweet_quote]

4) They view failure as progress

Because gritty people take on the most difficult challenges, they have an intimate knowledge of failure. The Wright Brothers crashed plane after plane into the sands of Kitty Hawk. Thomas Edison filled Menlo Park with the smell of burnt, broken, and useless filaments. Abraham Lincoln perfected the art of the concession speech. They knew failure.

But they did not view failure as an obstacle or a finish line. Failure was progress. Each failure became a step in the staircase to success. They fell forward.

And so, today, you can fly to Washington D.C. and visit the Lincoln Memorial, lit with incandescent light. [tweet_quote]Gritty people don’t run from failure, they use it.[/tweet_quote]

5) They face their fear

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to face it. Even the grittiest warrior feels fear. We all do. But every time we face a fear, it loses some of its power.

This is what high-grit people understand—fear exerts as much control as you allow it. If you nurture fear, it will grow. If you face fear, it dissipates. Even the Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt agrees:

“I have often been afraid, but I wouldn’t give in to it. I made myself act as though I was not afraid, and gradually my fear disappeared.”

How did he become the kind of man who gives a 90 minute speech after taking a bullet to the chest? He faced his fears.

What about you? What will you do?

“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.”

—Teddy Roosevelt

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