Remember when all those articles started appearing about how Grit was the only thing that determined success? It was more important than talent and passion and good looks combined. With grit you could win it all. Grit meant you could dust yourself off and try again, forever and ever.
A lot of these articles included a quiz. "How much grit do you have?" "Are you gritty?" "Do you have what it will take to succeed?"
I took the quizzes, at my old desk job, when I spent a fair amount of time grasping at straws that turned into snakes, and I was utterly unsurprised by the result I got: You are the ungrittiest person.
It sort of explained everything; if I had more grit, I'd be doing more and better and all that. I was lousy with gifts and talents, but none of them were the gritty one that mattered.
It didn't really change anything. I felt sad for an afternoon and then admitted I already knew it and had no idea what to do about it. Then I went and got sad about something else.
Fast forward to the past year or two and I have gotten gritty as fuck. Turns out you get that way when shit goes wrong.
I don't want to outline what all has gone wrong for a couple reasons that I think are more about professionalism than an aversion to being that vulnerable. But the fact is I've been bounced around a lot. Working for yourself after working for someone else is like the bubble boy being released into the wild for the first time. Skinned knees and bloody noses galore.
A little over a year ago I started keeping a list of my successes, because I was tired of the litany of "you failed" moments in my mind. It helps, most of the time. When I learn a useful Drupal trick, or when I close a deal, or when I do something I was really scared of, or when someone says something nice, I write it on the list. It helps with the voice in my head that insists I have never learned a goddam thing and have never been brave and have never had a client like me. Fuck that voice. It's flat out wrong.
But there have also been weeks when the entry on my success list reads: "Didn’t kill myself or quit my job." "Successfully relaxed this weekend." "Didn’t let the self-doubt demon eat my confidence" "Saw Jon Hamm in person and didn’t embarrass myself" "Didn’t panic and lose my shit at any point" "Thought about crying but didn't" (that last one got crossed out later in the day)
I mean, these are not the bulk of it. Mostly it's a pep talk, a real "You're trying and I'm proud of you". But those days happen. I've learned that if I just get my grit on, eventually the shit stops and we get back to the happy times.
But the grittiness does come at a cost. Maybe there are people out there who can hop up, again and again, like some indestructible robot, full heart, clear eyes, dust your self off and try again try again, if at first you don't succeed, our plucky heroine, I'll die before I quit, etc. But it wears me down. I'm trying so hard right now to put that sandpaper armor on and just wait it out, knowing that this too shall pass, yadda yadda, but it is hard. It is undeniable. If I were better, this wouldn't happen. If I were better, they wouldn't do those things. If I were better.
I don't know where this all ends up, except to say that it hurts, and I wish it didn't, and even though our ridiculous culture of innovation and disruption demands that we run into the arms of failure like a long-lost lover, to seek failure as fast as possible so we can move on to the thing that will finally work, and even though that is all true and correct and a very useful attitude to have, it still starts to build up, a sort of emotional plaque of failure. Sometimes I just want one person to say, "Gosh, you are so great at that thing you do." I could live on that for a couple weeks at least! (I guess the fact that I'm biting that line from Mark Fucking Twain should show me that, indeed, it does not go away and that you merely learn to savor the good bits even longer. Something to aim for.)
I once saw a choreographer in his 60s or maybe 70s perform a dance he made. There was a post-show Q&A and someone in the audience said they really enjoyed watching him dance. He responded with something like, 'You know, all I really want is for someone to tell me I'm good at dancing." That moment cracked me right open. The gratitude and relief of the moment was undeniable. He has been dancing all his life, much longer than I have, and I've been at it a good 27 years now, and all he wanted was somebody to say he was a good dancer.