Life’s journey is funny at times. I don’t mean the kind of funny that makes you laugh, but the kind of funny that causes you to look deep inside yourself and ask, “How did I ever get through all that?”
I look back at my almost twenty-eight years as a Navy SEAL and wonder about all the challenges I faced. I look at persevering in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, where the attrition rate was close to 80 percent. I look at the 180 I made to become the husband and father my wife and daughter deserve. I reflect on how I went through multiple neck surgeries that included titanium implants, fusions, missing vertebrae, and a mild stroke that forced an earlier-than-expected retirement.
I see my transition from a high point in life, where I was once on top of the world as an elite warrior, to being a lost, dark soul barely able to pick up thirty pounds without my back going out. Fighting to regain a sense of purpose greater than myself. Using the available time to press a four-year doctoral program into three years.
So back to the question: “How did I ever get through all that?” The answer is found in an internal resolve, strength of will, moral fiber, more commonly known as grit!
For a majority of people, grit might initiate romantic images of cowboys and folks traveling across the great lands, headed west for a new life, or a poor athlete growing up in the projects who finds his way into the pros, or a dramatic scene of a soldier in a war movie, or a young, single mother bettering herself and making a good life for herself and her children.
Few would have imagery of themselves having grit. It is a fact that each of us is uniquely and wonderfully made, and that includes grit. It’s a deep-seated resolve and internal fortitude that propels us through any challenge we might face.
The question is not whether someone has grit or not. The question is, will that person exercise it, develop it, and cultivate it into a personal strength? How do people allow their grit to drive them well beyond any destination they could have dreamed of?
Grit is forged in the fires of experience over time. The formula for grit looks like this:
Grit = Forged in the Fires of Experience
Experiences are a magnificent teacher. The type of experiences I am referring to here are ones that involved a high level of challenge, as well as physical and mental discomfort, and resulted in some type of internal growth. The objective going forward is to squeeze the very most we can from each experience and avoid having to be painfully taught something specific more than once.
Also, we have to recognize how precious a commodity time really is. No one knows how much they have, and once spent, time can never be gotten back. To grow and develop your grit takes a high level of intentionality and personal investment. Here are three strategies those seeking a higher degree of grit can focus on:
1. Embrace the suck!
Grit is inherently about being comfortable being uncomfortable. Many people have assumed that my time on the SEAL Teams conditioned me to the harshness of cold. Absolutely not! What I learned from being on the teams was to suffer in silence and not whine about it, in addition to pursuing a way to get warm. You have to be willing to pursue what it takes to be successful, even in the most difficult of times.
2. Create a vivid picture of the future!
Creating a vivid picture of the future provides the needed focus for visualization while enduring the stressors that come with being forged by the fires of experience.
A vivid picture of the future has a high amount of preciseness and detail to promote goal development. I pursued each level of my education (undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral program) with a vivid picture of completing the requirements with the highest grades possible while maintaining life balance as a husband, a father, and a professional at work. Without a vivid picture of where I was headed, I would have been lost.
3. Develop and maintain a genuine reality!
Grit is not grounded in a fairy tale. An inaccurate or false sense of where you are is a disaster waiting to happen.
Imagine, if you will, a ship leaving port. The crew begins the journey from a known point and assesses their situation along the way until they reach their destination. The ship’s crew constantly gathers information to develop a true reality of where they are on the chart. Assumptions won’t work. Assumptions increase the cone of error and the probability of missing their destination. The only way to minimize that cone of error is to be guided by truth. Truth is not always easy to hear, but it’s necessary if we are to have a genuine self-awareness of our abilities, competencies, and skills.
Grit is forged in the fires of experience over time. Embracing the suck, creating a vivid picture of the future, and developing and maintaining a genuine reality are three ways to reach a higher degree of grit in the challenges that life will present to you. Try one at first, and then exercise each of your grit muscles over time!
Developing grit that is forged through the fires of experiences over time requires intentionality and personal investment. No one—I mean no one—develops grit from the couch. Is it worth the gamble to live life like you’re not going to die? What do you want to model for those who mean the most to you? What do others see—couch or grit? Take a long hard look in the mirror! What do you want to see?
“True grit is making a decision and standing by it, doing what must be done. No moral man can have peace of mind if he leaves undone what he knows he should have done.
Grit is written by Dr. Chris Auger, BCC, LCDR (Ret.)