I’ve always been a little leery of the praise heaped so lavishly on the concept of “grit,” stick-to-it-tiveness, persistence. I respect people who honor values that dignify life, especially in the face of adversity, but I also know that I tend to cling to my decisions a little too tenaciously.
If I said I’d graduate with two bachelor’s degrees, then wild unicorns could not stop me from bagging both sheepskins, even though I could plainly see the music history degree was a testament to a closed chapter of my life. I have never, in fact, overtly used it (Valentine Windham scowls at me).
I have stayed in relationships too long, stayed in jobs MUCH too long, and I will probably stay in this house too long, if I haven’t already. Sticking with the practice of law meant I missed the indie publishing gold rush. Living in this house means I spend thousands just managing the danged trees. The cost of a relationship beyond its expiration date is hard to even think about.
But I am “not a quitter.” Sometimes, that means I’ve been a fool instead, wasting my fire on people, institutions, and situations that are no longer a good use of my resources if they ever were.
I’m also leery of grit-is-the-answer because it supports two myths, the first being that of individual agency. If you just persist–climb every mountain, ford every stream!–if you are determined enough, you can move mountains. But if you’re Latina, you will be moving that mountain at a wage, on average, about 55 percent of what a white male would be paid. If you’re quite short, major league basketball is not going to make you an offer no matter how persistent you are.
Yes, you can be the first in your family to cart tons of dirt across the valley, but all the time and energy you spend moving that mountain is then not available to tackle the institutional barriers making your wheelbarrow much smaller than the other guy’s. As long as some people–by institutional design–get the tiny wheelbarrows, and other people get bulldozers, fewer mountains will be moved overall. The myth of grit, while professing to support the moving of mountains, can actually keep the biggest, highest mountains exactly where they are.
My other peeve with grit is that is valorizes suffering in place over the courage to admit a screw up, the courage to backtrack, or to rethink and assert the right to quit. In some circumstances, grit prioritizes rigidity and stoicism over self-reflection, flexibility, and humility. This isn’t working, can be one of the scariest, most freeing admissions we can make–also one of the saddest–and I probably haven’t made it often enough or soon enough.
So how do you know when it’s time to rethink a decision, let go of a plan, or admit defeat? When does grit become more problem than solution for you? Chime in below, and I’ll put three more names on my ARC list for Miss Delectable.