Ep. 103 – To Succeed, Fail Often & Gain Grit

When was the last time you got to speak to people who were much younger than you, especially who are not related to you? This last week, I got to speak to a group of business students at my Alma mater. They were anywhere from 19-21. They peppered me with amazing questions about confidence, business, boundaries, money, and life. 

Instead of offering the traditional Gen-X platitudes, I said a lot of things like this:

I really hope you fail. I hope you don’t get the job or the promotion that you want. I hope you have a really crappy boss. I hope you feel nervous and excited when you start a job (or go on a date) because that means you’re stretching. I hope you find out what you don’t want many, many times. I hope you disappoint people.

I hope you go in your own direction.

I hope all of us experience those things, too. Not all the time, but in that experience we’re able to appreciate future experiences that are different.

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that sometimes growth is a choice, and sometimes it is a pivot.

Afterward, I was reflecting on that group conversation and I recalled the similar sentiment from Episode 14, which talks about how grit can become our internal super power. So I wanted to recap elements of  that episode here with the new framing of encouraging people to fail and fail forward. 

To have a full life, we need to experience both the bitter and the sweet. Oh, I know, sweet is lovely, but having all the sweet without any of the bitter can quickly taste like empty calories. Delicious in the moment and of little sustenance soon thereafter. When processed thoughtfully, bitter can be recycled into grains of grit. 

Getting back to the nudge to fail, think about a time where you were the runner up to something- the second choice, or you missed getting something that you really wanted. 

Psychology research has explored how that near miss has potential to propel you even further next time – when we use that correctly. Feeling the feeling of loss leaves an indelible lesson on your brain. It can be fire in the belly that drives you forward and further.

Almost all of us can recall the sting of rejection, the heavy weight of a broken heart, the might-have-beens, and the if-only’s. These setbacks often can become the fuel for persistence and perspective going forward. 

Grit is the primer so you can enjoy the reward later. You’re not supposed to skip this step. 

Yes, it is lovely to get quick wins and heart emojis. And it’s fun when you get lucky or win on the first try. But there’s a yin to that yang. 

Social scientists have looked at the means and methodology behind people’s perceptions of luck and grit. Luck, it often seems, is in the brain of the beholder. How we frame our fortunes, or misfortunes, sets in motion mental momentum. 

The language we use to explain and absorb an experience leaves a powerful imprint on the mind. 

Our brains are wired to look for patterns – to make sense of what was observed, felt. In times of uncertainty, the brain will turn to the language we use to look for clues. What is being said and suggested gets fed into the mental map as we consider our next steps or detours, or even if we take any steps at all. 

If you’re flipping a coin and you’re trying to figure out the frequency of the results, your logical brain will try to track the pattern, but the emotional center of the brain will search for nuance. You’ll say to yourself surely, it’s going to go my way this time. When in fact, logically, the statistical probability of a coin toss is always 50/50 – until we make it mean something else. 

Disappointment doesn’t have to mean defeat. We can take a loss today and compost the parts of it and fertilize the mind and invigorate the action forward. 

How rich could life be if we harvested grit? If it was the formula for future rewards. What if we accepted the bitter of failure today so we could savor the sweet a bit longer tomorrow? 

Grit is characterized as courage or character. It’s also the term for those loose, small particles of sand and stone. And that sand and stone sure feels like the feeling of grit when we are experiencing it in the bitter. It makes things just harder to move forward.

What if we reframed regret as an emotional and intellectual investment? We see it as a deposit of knowledge that strengthens our future insight and action. We look at that crappy manager and say “not again” or “that’s not how I will lead.” Then we can start to see every scrape of our knee as an opportunity to heal a little bit stronger. 

Grit only comes after the gravel of life shows up. It’s a gift with purchase alongside the sting of heartache. 

So the next time you find yourself marinating about the bad luck, the missed chance, and the linger of lost love – take that moment to acknowledge the sand and stone. Then turn around and look for the grit. 

Say thank you to the experience and dust off. Give yourself a chance to be creative, look for the shrapnel of strength, and get back up. 

You didn’t lose, you learned. 

You don’t have to start over, you get to start fresh. 

Grit doesn’t take away the bitter. Loss and grief are very real and go very deep. 

This isn’t an approach to getting over something, it’s simply a thought for how to get through it. 

Grit can be our guide. A mile marker on the longer journey of life. 

Every sting serves a purpose. And what you say next to yourself sets the Next course. 

One of my dear friends often says, “If not this, then something better.”

That has been a well-used phrase for me over the last few years as I’ve sorted the gravel from the grit and the sweet from the bitter. 

Grit can help shine a light as you look for the sweet in otherwise salty experiences. If not now, then next time. And if not this, then something better. And as you look for the grit, take care to take good care. Either way, go & grow.

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.