Resilience and Grit:
Knowing when to push or rest / Knowing when to preserve or stop
A brief article in the international section of various news outlets, in September of this year, caught our attention, for a variety of reasons. Briefly, what happened was elite athlete, Omar Ahmed, won the Great Bristol Run half-marathon in a personal best time of 1:03:08, which was nearly five minutes faster than the second placed runner. ‘Good for him,’ you may think and ‘why would that catch your attention, Ednah and Audrey?’ Well, as it happens, Omar hadn’t entered the 21km race at all – he had only entered the 10km race. Both races started at the same point and ran along the same route for a while, before the 10km and 21km runners split up and headed off in different directions. So essentially Omar took a wrong turn – an 11km wrong turn! And it was this wrong turn and his final result that got our attention and got us thinking about his story and its relevance to the current context we all find ourselves in.
Although there is very little about Omar’s experience in his own words, we do know that at about 9,6 km, he asked someone if he was on the 10km path and was told he was actually on the 21km route. We were wondering what went through Omar’s mind on finding this out. What made him decide to continue going, knowing that he’d now have an additional 11km still to run? Was it resilience, perseverance, determination or grit? To help us decide which [or perhaps none] of these it could have been, let’s first unpack what each means:
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from life’s difficult events
Firmness of purpose; firm or fixed intention to achieve a desired end; refusing to let anything prevent you from doing what you decided to do
Continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time; refusing to give up
Mental toughness and courage; Grit is passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades [Angela Duckworth – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance]
When looking at these definitions, we can see that there is much that connects these words to each other and at the same time, there are some fundamental differences. Let’s use Omar’s experience to dig deeper. Was Omar resilient? According to the above definition, perhaps he was, as he continued going even when he discovered he was running the wrong race. It may be worth mentioning here that Omar was subsequently disqualified, based on complaints by other runners and according to the rules of the race, as he hadn’t actually entered the 21km race. We also think that Omar would have demonstrated resilience after the event, when he decided to enter another race. As an elite athlete, we can safely assume that he definitely entered further races, given running is his career.
Was Omar determined? We feel we can argue for both in that we can probably assume that his intention was to finish the race with at least a podium finish, if not a win and regardless of the odds, he was going to go for it. On the other hand, he was determined to place in the 10km race, not the 21km and so perhaps his determination was misplaced? And what about perseverance? Did Omar demonstrate perseverance? We think he did as he went on to win the 21km race despite ‘slowing down a bit’, as he put it. He could have just as easily have given up when he realised he was no longer on the 10km route. And finally grit? As a professional athlete, there is no doubt that Omar showed grit and the demonstration of this characteristic probably applies to his training as well as his actual racing.
Whilst we marvelled at Omar’s show of determination and perseverance, we started thinking how this plays out for those of us who aren’t elite athletes and the impact these characteristics may be having on us in our current pandemic context. How many times have we given up on a goal, when just by persevering a little more, we would have got there? And how many times have we become obsessed with achieving a goal that we pursue it to the point of burnout? We may also have persevered, shown determination and resilience and achieved a difficult goal, only to find out that it didn’t bring us the success for which we had hoped. In this strange world of hybrid work and being always on, how do we know when we should dig in and get gritty and when we should ease up and rest? After much discussion, we realised that there is no one answer to this question and like most things in life, it depends. Depends on you – your goal, your stamina and your own personal level of grit. Being very specific about your goal, why you want to achieve it and what the impact will be is so important in helping build resilience and determination. When things get hard, we can keep our eye on the big picture and the ultimate reward to remind us to persevere. Knowing ourselves is also key – some days you may feel like you can take on the world and win and other days, well, you may feel like getting out of bed is just a step too far. Like most desirable traits, resilience, determination and perseverance can be developed and definitely need to be if we are to go on and ignite, in both our professional and personal capacities.
There are many articles written by people far wiser than us about how to build your grit and we highly recommend reading Angela Duckworth’s book ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.’ It is also worth remembering that a strength overused can become a hindrance, leading us to exhibit behaviour that borders on obsessive. Only you will really know when it’s time to push, to dig deep and to carry on, carrying on, or when it’s time to ease up and rest so as to come back stronger than before. This may mean the necessity of having meaningful conversations, at both home and work, about what is doable and ensuring rest and recovery are not overlooked. As we navigate the complexities of this Covid world, we need to realise that the responsibility to push and persevere or stop and rest, at the right moment, rests with us, because after all, who knows us best?
So what would you have done if you were Omar and discovered you were running the wrong race? Would you have continued, especially if you knew the final outcome was not going to be in your favour [disqualification]? Or would you have pulled out – either because you were giving up, or because you decided to conserve your energy for another race? And if the thought of running even 1km is just too much for you, what advice would you have given Omar, if you were the person standing at 9.6km when he asked if he was on the 10km route? Let us know, we’d love to hear your take on resilience, determination, perseverance and grit and how these characteristics have show up for you over the last 2 years.