What do Heather Whitestone, Bradie Tennel,
and Chris Mazdzer have in common? GRIT, also known as perseverance
or tenacity. More and more research has recently identified this
characteristic as one of the most common traits of those who
succeed. We call them talented, but that description misses the
primary ingredient that has led to the accomplishments of these
champions. For Heather Whitestone, it was learning the steps to her
dance performance while not being able to hear the music. Deaf
since childhood, her desire to win Miss Alabama – which took
three attempts – required hours and years of GRIT to overcome
her hearing impairment. And that was just a stepping stone so she
could compete for Miss America, which she won in 1995 as the first
winner with a physical disability.
Bradie Tennel, the Olympic skater and
current US National Women’s Figure Skating Champion sat out
three months of training in both 2015 and 2016 with different back
injuries. Today she’s competing at the 2018 Olympics in South
Korea. When asked if she ever entertained the idea of calling it
quits in the midst of injuries and setbacks, she responded,
“Absolutely not.” Bradie’s grit served her
through all forms of adversity in the same way grit served Heather
Whitestone. The presence of grit is most obvious over the long-haul
when people stick with an endeavor over years of hard work.
We are often distracted by people’s
talent. We either attribute other’s success to their talent
or excuse ourselves because we were not blessed with that talent.
We fail to recognize the element of effort. According to the work
of Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., effort counts twice as much as talent.
In her book, Grit, The Power of Passion and
Perseverance, she shares this formula: “talent x
effort = skill” AND “skill x effort =
achievement.” This means that effort factors into the
The trap for parents is that while
acknowledging the importance of effort, it’s easy to forget
that no one works hard at something they don’t find
intrinsically interesting. Play always comes before work. All
Olympians had early days cultivating their interest. They were
first of all “unserious beginners” says Duckworth.
Interests are discovered and developed in early years. Keeping
sports fun and full of adventure, small victories, and discovery
will eventually open the door to development and the need for grit.
Unfortunately, too many parents have pushed the message of hard
work prematurely, instead of allowing true passion to drive the
Teach grit to your children by
displaying your passion and
perseverance for your life goals. Remember you first acquired a
keen interest during the early years. It’s not likely that
you “worked hard” immediately. Someone encouraged you
with positive feedback and the message “We believe in
you.” Grit is a journey. Just ask Chris Mazdzer who spent the
last sixteen years moving toward the silver medal he just won in
the single luge at the 2018 Olympics. Fascination with the sport
came along first, then grit took him the distance.