Grit Means Getting Up Close and Personal With Failure

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Grit is the key to success, according to TED speaker Angela Lee Duckworth, and I don't think there are many people out there who'd disagree with her.

"Grit is having stamina," she told her audience. "Grit is living life like it's a marathon -- not a sprint."

Duckworth gave a pep talk worthy of any football locker room, filled with motivational phrases that would fit right in on a Pinterest Inspiration board.

The problem with grit, though, is that it has an ugly side. Grit means getting up close and personal with failure, over and over and over again. And failure? Well, most of us can only take it in small doses.

I got my own first taste of grit right after I graduated from college. I had earned a degree in Broadcast News from the University of Georgia. Armed with good grades, several internships, and stellar recommendations, I thought I'd be deluged with job offers.

I thought wrong.

Graduation Day came and went and I moved back home to my parents' house in Atlanta. So began the most ego-crushing six months of my life. I sent out dozens and dozens and dozens of resume tapes to television stations across the country. At first, I got no response. Several weeks later, responses flooded in... in the form of rejection letters. They came in an unending stream, and each one was like a punch to the gut.

My confidence in myself eroded, and I became consumed with doubt. Had I just wasted four years of my life learning the ins and outs of a career I'd never have? Was I not as good as I'd thought I was? Was the growing pile of rejection letters on my desk physical proof that I just didn't have what it took to report the news?

I kept in touch with my fellow journalism graduates, and learned that after a few months, many of them had given up the search for a reporting job and instead landed positions at public relations firms and television station sales departments. While they were moving to exciting new cities and signing leases on apartments, I was working at a bookstore, living with my parents, and mailing endless resume tapes into a bottomless abyss of career doom.

At least, that's how I saw it at the time.

It took fully five months for me to get a single phone call, and even then it was sketchy. A news director in South Carolina thought he might have a position open at some point for a reporter. Although he didn't formally offer me a job, I basically hounded him with letters, phone calls and emails for the next month until he sighed deeply and told me I was hired -- I'm pretty sure now that I got the job simply because the poor man wanted to get me off his back.

I didn't know it at the time, but I had just shown the first signs of grit. I had taken hold of an idea by the teeth and would not, could not let it go. Since then, grit has become an integral part of my career. It has meant standing firm against relentless waves of failure, enduring 1,000 people saying no in order to find that one who says YES! Grit has taught me that no one will believe in me unless I firmly believe in myself.

I plan to teach my own children these lessons, but I've saved something that I think will be far more effective than any words I could say to them. It's a folder containing every rejection letter I've ever received. And let me tell you, there are hundreds of them. Each one represents a figurative slap in the face, but together, they compose a Grit File.

Grit means choosing a rocky and often seemingly impossible path. But I hope my kids will realize that what lies at the end of that path is well worth the struggle.

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