Limitations of Grit
Determination with a Side of Wisdom, Please!
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2015
Dreams catapult us into productive futures; but only when those dreams are realistic. When they are not, we fail.
Determination, grit, persistence: Do you have it, the drive to succeed? People with determination are more likely to get what they want. The underlying grit pushes us from where we are to where we desire to be. But determination alone is not enough. Every January new self-proclaimed fitness enthusiasts flood the health clubs. Their resolutions—lose a hundred pounds or win the gold medal for the over forty division of the local Iron-man competition—motivate epic returns to health. A few achieve these miraculous accomplishments; but painful reality usually filters the mass of January goal-seekers to a few regular club attendees by the middle of February.
Are majority of January-well-wishers gritless quitters? With fitness goals, maybe so, but causes of failure, in any venture, are complex, with many contributing factors. There is more to success than self-discipline. We must examine failure with openness to complexity rather than simply blaming a simple personal flaw as the cause.
No matter how determined I am to visit to the Pacific Ocean, if I drive east, I never arrive. Some dreams are beyond our capacity—not realistic; other dreams require specific skill-sets and sacrifices that if ignored make determination futile, no matter how hard we try. We must recognize the achievability of a dream and possess a workable knowledge the steps required to avoid driving east on our way to the west coast.
"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Why the worry? Isn’t chasing faulty dreams better than settling for less? Sometimes; but many spend a lifetime in a dream world, never settling, always hoping for more than life can ever provide and stirring a habitual dissatisfaction with the present. The marriage, the job, and even the children disappoint. They escape with dreams but never realize the better life they constantly contemplate.
We expend energy chasing unobtainable dreams, and blindly dismissing less glittery opportunities. Determining which dreams are obtainable and which ones are impossible is an essential task to goal planning. We must assess personal skills, available resources, and the path to accomplish the goal. With experience, we hold more accurate mental representations of the work—closer to reality. Our assessments resemble reality. But when our goals deviate from our expertise, requiring significant changes, our mental representations of costs and benefits likely will be created with hopeful guesses rather than accurate assessments.
Life will be wonderful once we marry, after we have a child, once I get that job. We give the success a faulty attribution of a new paradise, ignore the difficulties associated and become disillusioned once we embark on the change.
"We expend energy chasing unobtainable dreams, blindly dismissing less glittery opportunities."
Before jumping into the fray, seek advice, gather detailed information, many of promised benefits of change provide an escape from current overwhelm or boredom, but are credible opportunities that can withstand skeptical examination. We easily get suckered into wasting time chasing a faulty dream.
We must gather information; research relevant topics, speak with those experienced in the new field and critically evaluate our set of skills to tackle the new adventure. Are we running away from the work to succeed elsewhere, believing the new endeavor will offer greater rewards without sacrifice? Often a new endeavor will stall on the same neglected character traits that tend to always interfere with our goals. Maybe we are afraid of success and consistently give up just before the finish line and try something else. We are strange creatures blindly self-sabotaging and crying victim.
When we bounce between dreams, escaping failures, and never addressing underlying blocks to success, we can waste precious years, leaving heartache and depression in its wake; we never arrive anywhere. Until we examine our self for significant detriments, there may be no saving glorious venture to get our life on track. The failures may not be because of faulty dreams but because of insufficient resources. Do we have sufficient patience, self-discipline, and skills?
We never fully understand the requirements of a specific goal until we begin the work. Active engagement exposes new obstacles, personal inadequacies, and lacking resources. As new information arrives, we must reassess, deciding whether to continue, quit or redirect our efforts.
A common physical asset for success in the National Basketball League is Height. Short players need not apply, right? Over the past thirty years, there has only been two notable players under five foot six inches—Muggsy Bouges and Earl Boykins. The rarity of a short basketball player makes the accomplishment notable. Muggsy and Earl’s determination to defeat incredible odds inspires us. We use their achievement as evidence of achieving the impossible—the determination factor. “If you want it bad enough,” we recite, “you can achieve anything.”
But there is a looming fallacy with this logic; height and determination aren’t the only contributing factors.
Continuing with the NBA example, success in the professional league requires several physical and mental skills. Some of these skills are learned, others are biological, and most are a combination of the two. Countless young men have failed to achieve their NBA dreams; blaming young athletes’ failure on lack of determination is a terrible disservice to the thousands of young men and women whose achievements fall short of a large contract.
We harm self-esteem when we blame every failure on lack of grit. Perhaps, perseverance is part of the cause, but, also, many other factors interfere, such as lack of goal structure, limited resources, poor support, physical attributes, or just plain bad luck.
Determination, the resilience to continue, certainly may alleviate the crippling impact of insufficiencies—lack of skill, support or resources—but determination doesn’t invalidate the other factors. At times, we may need the invigorating push from a RAH-RAH-YOU-CAN-DO-IT speech, the kind that employers gladly pay professionals motivators to increase production from a depressed and overworked team; but at other times, we may find, what we really need is more knowledge, skill, support or resources.
We can achieve many great things with dedication, overcoming horrendous odds, even when others believe it can't be done. History celebrates the heroes and heroines. The internal power to defeat the odds, however, is not decorated with promised success. Many determined men and women gamble and lose. Their stories are not found in the history books. Their stories of spoiled dreams fade with time, unavailable for new dreamers mapping their course in life.
"The behaviors and thoughts that sabotage you in one area of your life will stalk you in other areas."
With the spread of new age philosophy—you can do anything you want to; and the universe contains unlimited resources—we would expect an overwhelming flood of achievement with hordes of the down-trodden joining the exclusive club of the rich and powerful. The economic statistics paint a much different picture. The rich and exclusive club is becoming richer and more exclusive. A few dreamers make the leap; most don’t.
If we work hard, obtain an economically relevant education, and face challenges with determination, we usually can climb the latter of success, securing modest income and promising future—but not always.
Treasure your determination, it’s a tremendous asset. Determination greatly increases odds of success, also, kindly embrace hope, the dreams motivate, undertake small challenges, developing self-confidence, and investigate new opportunities, courageously taking some risks. All these things are important, leading to greater opportunities and brighter futures. But travel these paths with wisdom and flexibility, adjusting to unpredictable elements. Sometimes we must change directions, not all dreams are achievable or worth the costs.
Time spent following unobtainable dreams is not wasted; we learn, win or lose; succeed or fail, creating a stronger foundation and clearer mental representations available when considering other opportunities. The hopeful basketball player may not obtain his NBA dream, but the practice, team work, and self-discipline learned will graciously bless many other important areas of his young life.
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