When I interviewed with the FBI, they liked my grit and scrappiness—a hillbilly from a cattle ranch in Wyoming had clawed her way through college, and was now sitting in front of a panel of polished FBI agents interviewing for a job as a special agent.
I wore my working class background like a badge of honor. I was proud of the fact that my family took showers at the end of a hard day instead of stepping out of a shower smelling like a petunia each morning.
I grew up an unsophisticated ranch girl, and believe me, it takes a while to put a shine on a sneaker. I spent years being ridiculed because the educated elitists I met at universities and in business didn’t feel I was as enlightened as them.
Each curveball thrown my way was met with determination and persistence. I grew up with the grit it takes to make sacrifices in order to keep my eye on the larger goal.
The FBI liked that; when I was hired it was not because I was a female, it was because I was the best person for the job who happened to be female.
Voters feel they’ve been handed a curveball; entrepreneurs wake up every day to new challenges in their business; and startups are faced with new competition and unstable markets.
Here is why you need grit when life throws you a curveball:
1. WHY YOU NEED GRIT: MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS
Growing up on a remote cattle ranch presented different types of adversity—rattlesnakes in the summer and deadly snowstorms in the winter. Both presented life and death situations.
At an elevation of 7,000 feet, we were frequently snowed in for months at a time during the winter. My brother and I had a private tutor who lived on the ranch with us because we were hours from the nearest town. When I was in first grade, our first tutor’s vehicle got stuck in a snowdrift and she froze to death while trying to walk back to our house.
We worked hard and lived in poverty. While the educated elitists and slick professionals in the cities were discussing whether schools should teach bi-lingual classes, we were more interested in keeping our livestock alive.
I had no friends and I started stacking hay bales when I was 8. I thought it terribly unfair that life had dealt me this crappy hand.
I also had no idea that years later researchers would notice a connection between grit, success, and early adversity in life. Why would adversity when I was young give me an advantage?
The answer in this study suggests that adversity at a young age teaches us early in life how to deal with our emotions. The ability to regulate our emotions gives us an advantage in both business and life.
Emotional competence is one of the cornerstones of mental toughness. If we are emotionally intelligent and aware of our innermost emotions, we have a much better chance of dealing with them when a curveball comes our way as an adult.
What This Means For You:
No one gets through childhood without a few scrapes. We don’t all get the red ball in the playground. Mine the significance of your own stories and experiences to uncover the way in which you dealt with blows in the past. They are an accurate predictor of how you’re dealing with them now.
If you don’t like what you see, start working on changing your response.
Teach your children how to get in touch with all of their emotions now, even the negative ones. Pretending they don’t exist or protecting them from adversity will not prepare them for the inevitable ones that will show up. There are no safe zones in life.
Throwing tantrums and blaming others is not a strategy for success in either business or life.
2. WHY YOU NEED GRIT: LEAN INTO THE STRUGGLE
In working counterintelligence cases, I learned that grit meant leaning into the struggle when hit with a curveball or roadblock. I had one case that lasted 7 years before I was able to successfully close it. While I had other cases assigned to me during that time, this one case just kept rearing its ugly head.
There is a difference between being persistent and being stubborn. The case demanded that I change my behavior, tactics, and mindset if I planned on solving it.
Sometimes productive behavior means leaning into a struggle in ways that you don’t feel like doing but mental toughness is knowing when to change your behavior or when to change your environment. There will be times when you do need to change the environment so you can be your best self, but grit can help you respond to hardship in a more efficient manner.
Positive thinking is another cornerstone of mental toughness; FBI agents survive because they are always prepared for the worst-case scenario. We don’t go into arrest situations assuming everything will work out OK.
What It Means For You:
Don’t run from adversity or struggles if they are lying in the path of what you want to do in life. That means you will need to adapt and be flexible with micro quotas as you move toward your macro goal. Anticipate what could go wrong so you are better able to predict your response and land on your feet when confronted with the unknown.
3. WHY YOU NEED GRIT: STOP WHINING
The quickest way to be ostracized from an FBI squad is to whine, point fingers, or blame others.
Whining about your problems always makes you feel worse, not better, because your words have power, both over yourself and others.
If something is wrong, save your mental energy for finding ways to make the situation better.
There are so many things over which we have no control—our parents, the country of our birth, the time in history. Most of us do not have a choice of when or where we die, nor can we control the time and manner of our death.
But we can choose how to live—either with purpose and joy or adrift and hopeless. We can choose what makes us significant, we can choose to be creative, and we can choose whether or not we live according to our most deeply felt values.
When you stop whining, pointing fingers, and blaming others you are able to choose your destiny.
What It Means For You:
If you don’t know your core values, take time to find out what they are because they are what drive your behavior, move you, and inspire you.
Identify what is wrong, but don’t waste time talking about it. Instead, talk only about how you’ll make it better.
Everyone goes through the school of hard knocks in different ways and at different times in their life. The questions for you: