Oct 26, 2022

IntelePeer Stories: Grit

I just printed and framed several copies of the poem It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Albert Guest for my nieces and nephews to hang in their bedrooms. I am not usually one for cheesy writings or motivational posters, but I am moved by Guest’s poem every time I read it because of the kind of grit it brings forward – like an internal reminder that with the right attitude, we can all do hard things.

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
– Edgar Albert Guest It Couldn’t Be Done

I worked in higher education for several years before I came to IntelePeer. A common theme in higher education is student grit. What is it? How do we foster it? Why do some students have it before they get there, and why do some students struggle to learn it?

There are thousands of experts that will talk about student grit at length if you’re interested. I have always thought of it as having the self-confidence to fail.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
– Edgar Albert Guest It Couldn’t Be Done

Let me be clear about what I mean when I say, “failure” in this context. There are low-stakes situations that are made up of things we try that don’t change anything for us even if the experience turns out to be a failure, like trying a new way home to see if it might be faster.

Then, there are high-stakes situations where we are convinced the outcome tells us something about ourselves. To someone on the outside looking in, these situations may seem big – like starting a new business venture – or small – like learning the guitar.

Either way, to us these potential failures are deeply personal experiences, and we don’t often think of them that way. The meaning we attach to our own failures is deeply personal because it determines the level of risk we’re comfortable with, how hard we’ll work to get it right, and how many times or how hard we can fail and still be able to try again.

For example, if I’m an artist that convinces myself that being terrible at playing the guitar means that I’m simply not talented enough, then I am less likely to try it in the first place for fear of failure – let alone try again if the first few attempts don’t go well. However, if I feel that my ability to play guitar is only a reflection of how much time and effort I’ve spent on the skill and has no bearing on my worth as an artist, then I am more likely to try, fail, try again over and over as much as I’d like.

We want gritty employees and coworkers in tech. Our industries, products, and projects evolve incredibly fast. Often, we develop over multiple iterations, and, if you’re doing it right, each iteration has its own successes and failures. The best people to work with are the ones who confidently try things that make or break the next iteration. The ones who take failures as opportunities. The ones who learn from failure rather than interpret it as a personal inadequacy. The ones who take those lessons and develop better, faster, more interesting things because of them.

The only way to foster and attract grit is to create an environment that makes failure its own kind of success. Reward those who try something new, who walk away with some lessons learned, and, most importantly, who get up and try again. That way, no matter what mental programming a person has before they enter the workplace, they are much more likely to show characteristics of grit.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
– Edgar Albert Guest It Couldn’t Be Done

I am grateful to say that I have the pleasure of working in an environment on IntelePeer’s AppDev team with co-workers who share a gritty mindset. That is why I try to instill the idea of grit in my nieces and nephews in any way I can. It is why I chose Guest’s words to greet them each morning when they start their day and each night before they dream.

Knowledge is power.

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