Mark Caswell: Grit is earned in the hard times, not given

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The Caswell family credo is this: Love God. Love people. Earn respect.

My wife and I use it to guide our children in the choices they make and the lives they build. The first two are fairly self-explanatory. If you aren’t religious, think of them as choosing to serve a purpose higher than yourself and being selfless in a culture that encourages selfishness.

The third portion of the credo requires a bit more explanation. I believe you should show respect to others in all situations—even in the face of disagreement or rudeness. But I also believe we must set a higher bar for ourselves. We must seek to earn others’ respect, rather than demand it, through our attitudes, actions and outcomes. When we aren’t shown respect, we must simply earn it all the more.

This conversation with my children got me thinking. What other things must be earned? There are many, but in the context of business, one sticks out to me. Grit.

Grit is that ability to persevere through difficult situations. To put your head down and grind through hardship. To pick yourself up and dust yourself off in the face of failure. It is the resilience it takes to be successful in business (and life).

You might think some people just naturally have grit. While that’s perhaps a bit true, it’s more true that grit is earned. Some people have it because they build it. And as you think about building grit, here are some things to think about.

Seek the hard. Grit isn’t earned during easy times. It’s earned on the battlefield, fighting through difficult situations and facing challenges you’ve never faced before. If you run away from hardship, you’ll never have the opportunity to build grit. If you instead seek out the hardship, you’ll develop grit you never knew you could.

I remember being terrified to speak in front of people when I was younger. My hands would shake, my voice would quiver, and I’d mess up my words. But I leaned in. I practiced and practiced and practiced. It took almost a decade to build the skill, but today I would say public speaking is one of my favorite things to do. Had I avoided that decade of hardship, I’d be missing a part of my work life that I now love.

Be grateful for the hard. A strange thing happens once you realize grit must be earned. You start to become grateful for the hard things that come your way. The new challenge at work, the momentary failure on a project, the difficult boss that just won’t get off your case. Those are no longer things to avoid, but things to seek out. So, you become grateful when you find them.

This is often easier to do in hindsight, once some time has passed. However, if you can learn to value hardship when you are in it, you’ll be much more fulfilled and happy as you navigate life’s challenges.

Grit takes time. I have a phrase I often share with my mentees: Wisdom takes time. You can speed up knowledge accumulation and skill development, but you can’t rush wisdom. It simply takes a while to add up enough life experience for wisdom to show up.

The same is true of grit. Grit is developed over time, by tackling big challenges and small. It takes facing many setbacks and failures, as well as many successes and achievements. All of this doesn’t happen in a day, so don’t expect it to. Be patient with yourself as you develop grit. And be patient with others as they do the same.

I’ve not met many people who believe they are done growing or think they don’t have anything new to learn. I’ve also not met many people who bettered themselves sitting on a beach. A life spent avoiding hardship is a life of stunted growth. Growth happens in the hard. And so, if you want to grow, if you want to get wiser, if you want to develop grit, you must not just tolerate hardship, but find it, be grateful for it, and lean into it.•

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Caswell is CEO of Resultant, an independent technology, data analytics and management consulting firm based in Indianapolis.

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