True grit is not just a movie starring John Wayne. It’s a modern term used to describe an ideal of not giving up. Having grit is having endurance towards long-term goals iagainst all odds. It is persistence towards one’s ends. It is staying power.
It’s sometimes an unfortunate circumstance many of us tend to give up right before we reach our successes. We’re often so close, when perhaps we feel so far.
To illustrate this point, there is an old yarn that best tells the story of sticking to your guns. It’s from the Napoleon Hill book Think and Grow Rich. The story is called Three Feet From Gold.
A man and his uncle wanted to dig for gold and strike it rich. So they staked a claim and got to work with a pick and shovel. After weeks of labour, the men were lucky enough to discover shining ore. The men sent the ore to a smelter. It was gold and they used the money to purchase machinery to drill for more gold, in what was soon discovered to be the richest mine in Colorado. With a few more hauls, this gold ore would surely clear their debts on the purchased equipment, and then the men would make a killing in profits.
Unluckily, the vein of gold ore disappeared. They drilled on and on, desperately trying to find the long lost vein of gold. To no avail, they could not locate it. All was lost. Finally, the men decided to quit, and eventually sold their equipment to a junk man for a few hundred dollars.
This junk man was not dumb. He hired a mining engineer and did a few calculations. The engineer discovered the former project had failed because the two men had not known about fault lines. His calculations proved the vein of gold was actually only three feet from where the uncle and nephew had stopped drilling. It was the junk man who struck it rich.
Whether this tale is truth or fiction, it does pack a punch. It shows the junk man only needed a small piece of expert advice in order to strike it absolutely rich, and perhaps the other two shouldn’t have given up so easily.
A quote by Hill reads, “One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.”
So, is it necessarily true so many of us tend to give up when we are often the closest to our goals?
In an article published by the Atlantic, the author of Grit, Angela Duckworth, found that what distinguished high performers “was largely how they processed feelings of frustration, disappointment or even boredom. Whereas others took these as signals to cut their losses and turn to some easier task, high performers did not – as if they had been conditioned to believe that struggle was not a signal for alarm.”
Grit is, at its core, a “stable trait that does not require immediate positive feedback.”
Often, our daily lives are not ones filled to the brim with reward and celebration, and yet we can find comfort in knowing perhaps we are frequently only three feet from gold. Maybe there is some truth to the idea that we often overestimate the amount we can achieve in a year and underestimate the amount we can accomplish in five. There need not be so much immediacy.
In achieving long-term success, when we have the determination to tirelessly work through challenges, adversity, and failures toward set goals, we can best use grit as our enduring stamina.
As Duckworth would say, grit is having “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It is when we are not discouraged by minor setbacks.