Looking back over my life so far, I've noticed an interesting quality, which is, actually, a firm tendency.
Knock me down, and I'll get back up. Knock me out and I'll wake back up. I stay in the game, regardless. I have what seems to be an innate drive never to give up, even on goals that look impossible and things that seem hopeless. Maybe I'm just trying to live up to my middle name. Victor.
My first book was turned down 36 times. At rejection number 20, I guess some people would give up. I couldn't. I've had another book "passed over" by editors 45 times. Ditto. That's part of the reason I've had over twenty books published. If I have something to say, I'm going to say it.
When I was a professor at Notre Dame, I would often suggest something very new to the administration. As a result, I typically heard the words, "Well, there's a problem with that." I would always respond, "That's fine, I'm a problem solver. What can we do about it?"
There are many psychologists now deeming this to be the most important quality for success. They call it grit. I'm glad I have it it. And maybe it's no surprise. Nearly every morning of my southern childhood, I grew up eating grits. And at least one remains. And it's a big one. Grit. Determination. Persistence. Heart. Consistency through trouble, disappointment, and "No."
Is it a form of optimism? Often, yes it is. But really, it can even be independent of any confidence that I will in the end prevail in a certain project or aim. I'm going to keep going whether I win or not. Shut down the arena, turn out the lights, and I'll probably still be at it. Stubbornness may indeed be a close cousin to this drive.
When you're passionate about what you're doing, when you're a true believer in the task, then giving up seems dishonorable, disloyal, and maybe, at times, a disgrace. We may not be in this world always to succeed, but it seems to me that we're here to persist. That doesn't mean that you can't change tactics, adjust a goal as you learn, and perhaps go at the whole thing in a new way. It just means you never fold accept defeat. Any failure along the way is a step, an opportunity to learn, a moment to rest on the canvas before your next charge.
If the game is not worth the effort, then you're in the wrong game.
When I was in high school, I had long-distance friends in Chicago who liked to make fun of my North Carolina accent, but not nearly as much as they enjoyed mocking me for my love of grits. One of the greatest days of my life was when I was able to present them with a large container of standard Quaker Grits, turn over the cylindrical box, and show them on the back the words 'Made in Chicago.'
Where is real grit made? In your heart. In your soul. And if you don't feel you have it, you can cultivate it. You can create it. You just have to find a way to be passionate about what you're doing, to care with all your heart. Commencement speakers are criticized this days for advising graduates to "Do what you love," as if that's a luxury available only to the very few. But anyone can be advised to "Love what you do." Because there's always a way. By nature, we are all discoverers of meaning. But most of all, we're makers of meaning. When what you're doing, or seeking, or chasing is meaningful to you, there's an extra resilience in your soul, a flexibility and strength that we all need for tough jobs, and worthwhile achievements. And that's true grit.