The very first line in the best-selling book The Road Less Travelled gifts us this universal truth: “Life is difficult.” Everyone has their own set of challenges; although some may have it easier than others, there are still obstacles in each person’s path. How one individual handles a problem, and how he can emerge from it successfully, is determined by grit.
What is grit?
The term has been around for some time, but it was popularized in a TED Talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth, in which she describes “grit” as the ability to stick with things that are important to you and bounce back from failure. Duckworth also says that success is not determined by intelligence or good looks, but by one’s passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
According to Duckworth, the most successful people have the stamina to stick with the future day in and day out. They have a growth mindset, where one has to be willing to fail, to be wrong, and to start over again with lessons learned.
The will and the way
Life was - and still is – difficult for me and for my four sons. We fled from abuse, and now, with me as a single parent, rely mostly on my income for our daily needs and for bigger things like their school tuition.
This led my eldest son to dream of entering the University of the Philippines. Not only would the free tuition ease our financial strain, but he would also get the level of education that he needs to pursue his long-time dream of becoming a lawyer.
Unfortunately, he did not pass the UPCAT. He made the mistake of arriving late for the first part of the exam, which was the result of another mistake to take the exam at the unfamiliar territory of the UP Manila campus.
After the results came out, he told me he didn’t pass. I consoled him and started looking for other colleges where he could go. Little did I know that he hatched a last-ditch effort to get into the school.
My son stood by himself, under the heat of the midday sun, holding up a sign that said “Reconsider Me” outside the UP Registrar’s Office. He was photographed by a student, and the photo became viral.
What he did took grit, and it really made me see what kind of man he has grown up to be. All the chagrin of being a ‘viral sensation’ aside, with a few trolls coming at us from dark corners of the interwebs, I was very proud of my son. He took a chance, and even though he was not able to get into UP, he was able to demonstrate that he has what it takes to succeed in whatever he wants to do in his life. He is now happy in another University and is getting good grades there whilst living in a dorm.
How to develop Grit
So how do you help a child grow with grit? I have been asked by friends who are parents themselves. I think it boils down to a few simple things.
- Support, but don’t be an enabler. Don’t keep parachuting into their lives with the solution to a problem. Let them pick and fight their own battles. Let them learn from their mistakes. After an incident, sit them down and teach them to analyse what went wrong and how they can do better.
- Let them have role models. I have a friend who, as a teenager, delivered pigs to help his family. He told me about how he picked up and lick a friend’s candy bar wrapper from the trash just so he could taste imported chocolate. Now he is a leadership motivational speaker. Another friend experienced sharing a single scrambled egg with his siblings because there was nothing else to eat. He is now a leader in his field. I share their stories with my sons, to inspire them to never give up no matter what.
- Exhibit grit. Let them into your own struggles. I try to cushion them from financial worries, but I also make sure they understand that I have to work hard to provide. Share stories of problems you’ve had and grown from.
- Lastly, let them dream. One of the first promises I made to my son was that I will support his dreams, no matter how farfetched they may seem, such as being the president of the country someday.
About The Writer
Maan Pamaraan is a single mom of four boys who finds fulfilment in her decades-long career as a writer for several publications. When she is not in serious journalist mode, she enjoys sitting in front of her laptop to write light-hearted anecdotes about raising her children along with general observations about life as a working mom. A survivor of an abusive relationship, her current advocacy is also that of lending a sympathetic ear for other women who have found themselves in the same situation.