When Grit is Actually Stupid
Today’s main piece is a little more analytical and categorical. I’m going to be experimenting with different types of pieces for the newsletter.
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Welcome to Your Lazy Sunday a place to
Grow and Create
The current definition of grit is stupid. We have lumped so many contradictory definitions into the word ‘grit’ that it’s confusing. And yet, hidden in those definitions is a quality I think everybody should have. I call it True Grit.
If we want to have True Grit, we need to understand what it is. We need to separate it out from all the other grit. We need to see the target before we can go for the bullseye.
That’s what I’m going to do today. Help you see the bullseye. Here are the three dumb (so dumb they’re secretly brilliant) categories for the three types of grit.
1. Grits Grit
If you don’t know what “grits” are, they’re a Southern “comfort” food. But really they’re a corny soupy hell hole.
They’re so terrible that you can’t even discreetly spit them out into a napkin. In fact, I consider grits a form of advanced torture that should be a violation of the Geneva Convention.
People love grits.
I see torture; they see delight.
This where most people get confused about grit. They see people they think are gritty. They hate math and they see poindexter math kid learning calculus for fun. Then they think wow that nerdy kid sure has grit.
But that’s not necessarily true. Just because it would take you an insane amount of grit to something, doesn’t mean it would for others.
Most gritty people don’t think of what they do as grit. They do it because they’re addicted and passionate about what they’re pursuing. Not because they’re being gritty.
It’s like the food, grits: torture for most people, amazing for a select few.
Public speaking is a prime example of Grits Grit for me. For others, it’s pure torture. For me, it’s a delight.
The key in your life is to find as many Grits Grit as possible. Find things that seem gritty for others, but are fun or an obsession for you.
These are your secret superpowers.
2. Mr./Mrs. Grit
This is what we normally think of as grit. This is a person whose entire identity boils down to the fact that they have grit.
They’re the ones who always share the idea, tout that the younger generation doesn’t have any grit, and are always talking about it. Often they’re the “do as I say, not as I do” types
They’re the ones who were super excited when the term “grit” became popular. They felt validated.
These people suffer from summit fever
“Summit fever” is a mountaineering term that describes the drive or compulsion of a climber to reach the summit of a mountain no matter what the cost.
They want to achieve no matter what. For them, achievement > happiness. They would relate to Angela Duckworth’s comments about grit:
“Striving is exhausting. Sometimes I say things like, ‘I wish I were not quite this driven to be excellent.’ It’s not a comfortable life. It’s not relaxed. I’m not relaxed as a person. I mean, I’m not unhappy. But... it’s the opposite of being comfortable.”
Often these people value suffering to an unhealthy degree. They think if you don’t partly hate doing something it’s not worth doing or it doesn’t count.
The more fortunate people in this category have a midlife or quarter-life crisis where the emphasis on achievement weighs them down. They pursue a passion, go on meditation retreats, or do “inner work.” They can eventually see how this grit (although often effective) doesn’t burn clean.
The less fortunate have medical problems, live profoundly unhappy lives, and/or they become tiger parents. They pass the dangerous elevation of this trait over all others to future generations.
This often backfires—creating successful children who don’t have the best relationships with others. These children often struggle with self-esteem and repeat the mistakes of the generations before them.
3. True Grit
That Jeff Bridges type of Grit.
True Grit is difficult to define.
People who have true grit can distinguish between the meaningless suffering of Mr./Mrs Grit and the meaningful suffering required to become who you are.
They often can recognize that short-term grit leads to meaningful consequences. They can directly point to how grit has made their lives worth living.
But they don’t elevate grit as the highest ideal. It’s a tool they use to create happier and more meaningful lives.
They recognize the value of other things like boredom, fun, and Grits Grit.
They also know when to quit.
They know that sometimes it’s a truer form of grit to quit something. They don’t hold on because their identity is tied into grit. They aren’t committed to their own suffering if it’s needless.
For them, quitting can often be a sound decision that is reached by logic and introspection.
This level of grit requires practice. It’s hard distinguishing between Mr./Mrs. Grit and True Grit. Sometimes you can suffer meaninglessly. Other times, you try to convince yourself that your meaningful suffering is actually meaningless because it feels emotionally uncomfortable.
Recognizing the difference between running away and running towards is something you can only gain with awareness and introspection.
When we think about the three types of grit, I think most of our life should be the Grits Grit.
After we have a firm base of this grit we should add a healthy sample of True Grit while weeding out any ego-driven Mr./Mrs. Grit.
We should become aware and introspective. Understanding how our bodies react is a good indicator of what type of grit it is. True Grit feels more emotionally uncomfortable in a way that nothing else does. Mr./Mrs. Grit is often an emotional bandaid that is meant to distract.
Those few who learn to develop True Grit can find a lot of truth in this quote:
“What people don’t realize is that the Myth of Sisyphus is an aspirational myth” - Dave Chang
If you don’t know, The Myth of Sisyphus is about a man named Sisyphus who angered the gods. They condemned him to laboriously push a boulder up a hill. When he reached the top, he would have to watch it roll back down. They condemned him to do this for eternity. Push it up and hopelessly watch it roll back down.
Famous philosopher Camus pointed out the parallels to our lives. Our lives are meaningless. Life can be terrible and devastating. Life’s chaos can strike us at any minute whether or not we deserve it.
As Camus famously said:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.
How then do you keep going? How can you have the true grit we talked about?
I’m still toying with this question. But I think I’ve found part of the answer.
We must celebrate our phoenix-like death and rebirth. We must convert most of the True Grit into Grits Grit and the rest into acceptance.
We look from the outside at these people and we celebrate their resiliency. We elevate them and their stories. But it’s who they’ve learned to be. They’re resilient and perseverant because for them there is no other choice. For others, it seems hard, but for them, it’s the life they’ve chosen to live.
That’s their secret superpower.
That’s what Dave Chang means when he says it’s aspirational. It is aspirational if you learn to love it.
Camus analyzed the Myth of Sisyphus, trying to figure out what Sisyphus and we can do to be happy.
How can we choose life?
Camus suggests that the external need not reflect the internal. We can learn to love the profound absurdity of the human condition.
Camus ends his analysis of The Myth of Sisyphus with one of the most beautiful lines in all of philosophy. He says
“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
I can understand the benefits of imagining that he was happy. It’s a useful lie. But I don’t think it’s a lie. I think he somehow learned to love and accept the pain. I believe was happy.
Even though the absurdity and monotony…
I truly believe he was.
After that long examination of grit, here’s a palette cleanser.
Have I been saying baby wrong my whole life? I think so.
Till next my lazy friend,