On Grit

Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance¬†was a book I read for myself. I was hoping to learn how to be resilient and mentally tough. I wanted to know how to stick to goals and keep pursuing what I wanted, even in the face of adversity. 2017 was a year where there were good reasons to struggle, but I don’t know if 2018 is going to be that much better. So I wanted to learn how to persevere.

I didn’t pick it up thinking I’d learn anything about KRH, when in fact I think I walked away with more to think about for him than for myself. If you haven’t heard Duckworth’s TED talk, I recommend watching it, which I’ve helpful included below.

Let me say, first of all, that as a writer perseverance has been my ideal goal for a couple of years now. I did a lot of writing in my late teens and early twenties, but in a scattered sort of way. I’d work hard for a few days, then get lost in video games or other things. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized the only way I was going to achieve my goals of publication and success was to regularly put my nose to the grindstone. I set a target of 10,000 hours of practice, not because I thought I needed that to succeed, but as a way to track my progress. So I’ve been pursuing perseverance as a writer for some time now.

So I was a little surprised that Grit was in large part about the value of perseverance, rather than skills about how to obtain it. A good part of the book is about finding the thing you’re passionate about, something I’d already done, and citing examples of people who’d done this, and then persevered in their pursuit of their goals until they reached success. It’s not as simple as that, and Duckworth goes into the evidence in favour of not just practice, but of improvement.

What I think this was perhaps most useful about is thinking about how I’m going to help KRH find his passion and develop grit. I knew, from my early teens, that I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until far later that I was able to develop some perseverance in the pursuit of it (and I’m not where I want to be yet, as the last year just proved). But I would not have described myself as a passionate or motivated teenager, to what I’m sure what the frustration of my parents. I know now, of course, that whatever intelligence or talent I may possess isn’t going to get me anywhere, but I spent a fair part of my youth thinking so, or just not thinking about it. So I appreciated Duckworth’s ideas about how to find passion by trying many things, about knowing when to quit, and about the value of working on hard things.

Until recently, CRH and myself had disagreed a little about KRH. CRH wanted to support the development of his passions, to encourage him to explore interests and extra-curricular activities. I was prepared to let him be a little more lax in the development of his interests, because I figured that his passion and motivations would come in time, like mine did. I wanted to support him this, but not push him to find those interests.

Now, I’ve started to think CRH might be right. I think the way might be to encourage and support KRH in finding his passion, but to also have high expectations of him in pursuing those things. I think that maybe I could have benefited from that myself. I’d be a lot further in pursuing my goals if I’d started working consistently five years earlier. In fact, I wish I had, when I consider that I spent a good deal of that time doing things that didn’t really end up developing my interests or myself. There could still have been plenty of time for World of Warcraft and games and watching anime and spending time with friends, the things I mostly did with those years, but I could be a lot closer to where I want to be.

In the end, time that’s passed has already passed. Now, I look to the present and the future. Grit was an excellent read as a parent, and I’m glad I read it.

2017 in retrospect

New Year’s is a fascinating time. It’s a time that seems to inspire excess, while also serving as both an end and a beginning. Surviving another 365 days seems like a big enough deal that we should celebrate, and yet, it’s often that sort of celebration that we intend to put behind ourselves.

Last year, I took a look at 2016 to end that year, so this year I’ll do the same. So what did I do in 2017?

In a lot of ways, not as much as I’d hoped. And yet, I accomplished a fair amount, a great deal of it around learning to Dad and surfing the waves of having this tiny being I call KRH. But so much of my internal focus is on “productivity” by which I tend to mean my progress toward goals, things like writing, health, personal growth. And in this year, when I intended to thrive, I mostly survived or ran in place. That left me feeling pretty disillusioned about myself.

The thing is, I shouldn’t be. This year, I finished yet another rewrite, made progress on an ongoing project, took four months of parental leave that both expanded my perceptions of what being a Dad was all about and taught me an awful lot about KRH, got into a manuscript workshop, wrote a bunch of queries, and generally survived on less sleep than I’ve ever had while the world felt like it was burning around us. So maybe it wasn’t my most productive year. I survived it, and now I have to learn and move on.

How is 2018 going to be different? In a lot of ways, it probably won’t be. The chaos isn’t going to stop, I think we all know that. More personally, KRH is going to keep getting bigger and older and keep learning, and in a lot of ways he’ll need his parents more than before, even if he one day (hopefully) allows us to sleep through the night. So the challenges remain.

Long story short, I think I need to tackle those challenges differently. Rather than merely having goals, I need to build systems that will carry me toward those goals. Perhaps more important, I need to be resilient in sticking with those systems, no matter who’s tweeted what or how little sleep I got last night. If it was easy, I’d already be doing it.

So what’s next? Applying those systems, plus that manuscript workshop I mentioned earlier. In a lot of ways, the more I learn about publishing and writing, the further I think I am from getting published. I think I’m writing damn good stuff, but I wonder if there’s another level I need to hit before I get to publication. After that, keeping on with the book I’m workshopping, because turning around a novel a lot faster than I currently do is something I really need to do. The average MRH novel takes about 650 hours right now, and I want to both cut that down, and get better at getting it all in inside a calendar year or so.

Launching into this year, I think I feel a lot more optimism than I felt this time last year, and I also think my expectations of myself are a lot more reasonable. That’s good! I suspect those expectations will get challenged very quickly.