Gasping through the 5th mile of your first 10K, it's hot, everything aches, you're drenched with sweat. Would it really matter if you just stopped and crawled the remaining 1.2 miles? After all, you're not 20 any more, or 30 for that matter. Okay, you're about to turn 50. But hold on, there's a little voice that tells you to pick up the pace, you're almost there.
What is it that pushes us to achieve our wildest and most improbable goals?
The combination of perseverance and passion for important life goals is known as grit. Leaders in art, medicine, law, journalism and other fields have it. In a number of studies it's more predictive of success than intelligence alone. After all, most people who succeed in any profession are highly intelligent. Grit is the value added by virtue of sheer force of will and persistence. The gritty maintain focus and forge ahead, even in the face of failure, in order to achieve their goals.
Fascinating in its implications, the study of grit is still in its infancy. The Grit Scale, developed by Angela Duckworth and her colleagues, includes items about perseverance, overcoming setbacks, finishing what we start, being diligent, avoiding distractions and maintaining focus over time.
Here are some suggestions for becoming more gritty.
Find your passion. Whatever your age, trying new experiences and exploring possibilities can help you identify something you can be passionate about. Read, research, dabble and putter. Get input from people who might help broaden your perspective. Encouraging your kids to do this is a good way to help them learn about their interests and identify their passions.
Emulate successful models. Find others you admire who are leaders in your field and learn how they've been successful. Follow their lead. Accept help from the greats when you can get it. Their success can be inspiring, not overwhelming. Try not to be afraid to ask for what you want.
Dedicate yourself. You know the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall--practice, practice, practice. Dedication to a goal involves a combination of unwavering commitment to the goal and persistence to that goal over time. There's no need to be a generalist unless you prefer it.
Learn from setbacks. Try not to dwell on possibilities for failure, but don't be surprised by setbacks. Expect that the road will be a little bumpy, or quite rocky at times. Such difficulties are sometimes used to rationalize quitting. Instead, I recommend facing problems squarely and using the information productively. Figure out what went wrong and modify your approach.
Run the marathon (not the sprint). When you start to fatigue, it's not time to quit. Stay on track. Circumvent all obstacles. Focus on getting to that finish line. And enjoy the journey.
Listen to the people cheering, the music playing. It's the biggest 10K in the world, and you're part of it. You can almost see the end of the mass of people ahead of you. And come on, how cool is it to finish your first 10K just in time for your 50th birthday?