It’s easy to toss around a word like ‘grit’ – but what does it really mean? Merriam Webster defines grit as “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” The synonyms for grit range from ‘backbone’ to ‘courage’ to ‘resilient.’ These are all qualities we’d likely ascribe to, even if we wouldn’t count them as strengths. Even if the word grit doesn’t resonate with you, it’s antonym likely does: spineless. No one ever wants to be called spineless.

Certain words are more easily ascribed to specific generations. Grit may seem like a quality valued only by those who enjoy John Wayne westerns and are on the downward slope into retirement. You may picture a gritty John Wayne, standing beside his ‘spineless’ antonym – a 28-year-old millennial who spends his days writing offensive comments on websites and posting Instagram photos of coffee art. But is grit only a characteristic for those who lived years ago? (Please don’t write a comment defending millennials and coffee art or I’ll be tempted to call you…you’ve got it…spineless- it’s a joke!). 

Swimming with the current doesn’t really develop the same level of muscles as swimming against the current. Those who make the trip up the current are a lot stronger. They got tired, but they never gave up. A workplace that is filled with employees who have grit is an unstoppable company.

Ways to Develop Grit

While hardship is how some develop grit, the good news is that it’s not the required path. Grit is developed in the small daily interactions. Rethink your current approach to learn how you can cultivate a resilient disposition.

1. Support the mission.

Every organization has a mission – whether it’s well stated or not. Learn what the organization is working towards, and keep that direction in mind. Mission provides a goal to work towards. It also drives the planning and plan adjustments. When we focus on making clients or immediate bosses happy in the moment, success is short lived and your frustration will be high. Keep the big picture in mind.

2. Focus on the results and not just being dependable.

It is a good character trait to be dependable and reliable. The world would not be the same without all of the people who show up day in and day out and churn out the required work. Note that this is not an either/or situation. Being results-oriented still requires dependability, but results trump merely showing up daily. Start the results-oriented adjustment with your current resume. Think through all of your old jobs and how you brought about results. Then start looking at your current tasking with an eye on the accomplishments, not the effort.

3. Don’t give up on people or projects.

Everytime we choose to stick it out on a project or with a person, we develop more grit. It is wise to move on sometimes, but that is different than quitting in the heat of a moment. Sometimes, when a situation seems impossible, a little leaning in and not overreacting can bring about a rewarding result. To be clear, sometimes grit is displayed in walking away from a toxic person or environment; however, if quitting is the first solution that comes to mind, it could be helpful to hit the pause button to reassess.

4. Develop an eye for excellence – not perfection.

Fear of failure can be debilitating. I constantly remind the kids in my life that some of the best lessons come from failing at something. We cannot be so risk averse that we never move forward because of the odds of failure seem too high. Stop striving for perfection, and instead, work with an eye towards excellence. The benefit of risk management plans is that they might be able to foresee carelessness or operating outside of scope or mission, but they should not stop innovation.

5. Stand for what is right.

We’re not in the middle of a world war. We’re thankful to live in a country that values and protects our basic human rights (fought for and defended by people with a lot of grit). Despite all this opportunity, we still see wrongs all around us. Historically, evil occurred when people took the easy path and said or did nothing. When the opportunity comes to stand for what is right, don’t let the moment pass you by. Correctly document your hours. Correct mistakes to the client. Update reports when needed. Stick up for the coworker that gets slighted.

We all wish we had a Staples Easy button. In a society filled with ease and convenience, it’s hard to determine at what point we started always looking for the path of least resistance. I blame the microwave. While it’s fun to quip “work smarter not harder,” I’d argue that it’s important to work smarter and harder if you really want to stand out.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.