OCTOBER 7 – 16, 2021

Where Grit Meets the Dirt

Musings on a trendy word and why we can all use a little practice from Rebelle Founder Emily Miller:

In the business world, there is always a trendy word or term. I can be guilty of overusing them, especially ones like “curate.” But there is a much talked about one these days that I am particularly close to, but don’t often utter – “grit.”

I chuckled as I read Fortune Magazine’s go at it (McGirt, Ellen. “Grit is the New MBA.” Fortune Feb. 1, 2018), which was a good article, but left me with the lingering impression that Harvard and Stanford MBAs are still trying to figure out how to judge it in recruiting practices, and relegating “grit” to people much less fortunate than those with privileged paths. Don’t get me wrong, I’m encouraged they are realizing toughness has Street and Valley credibility.

I see various interpretations beyond the Merriam-Webster version, so I should expand upon my perception of this noun. My definition is “A character trait exemplified by unwavering determination, strength of character and commitment, combined with hard work.” I use the word exemplified because grit is action, not words. So I see grit as noun, adjective, and verb – a truly dynamic descriptor. I also want to add in an important term, endurance. To me, grit over the long haul is what counts.

The beauty of grit is that it is not gender or race specific – it is a character trait. When talked about in the aforementioned article, there were definitely more examples of minorities and women. Maybe it is because we possibly have more opportunities to develop, practice, and refine our grittiness. One question I ask, is grit hardwired in our DNA? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe firmly that grit can built and developed through challenging experiences – planned and unplanned. And if it lies within our genetic makeup (or not), putting ourselves in gritty situations is definitely the way to build it for when we need it most – when the s!*t gets real. And trust me, you don’t want to be on a team and just figuring out if your teammate has grit when it’s go time.

“Grit practice” is one of the reasons I love the Rebelle Rally and feel so compelled to ensure this event happens. It is a platform for women with real grit to shine, and for those who need grit to practice. At the core, the rally is a navigation competition. But it’s also an environment that allows us to put down our connected devices, and learn about and deal with our own less than perfect traits. (No, you don’t build grit by posting gritty Instagrams.) It can be tedious inside and out of the car day after day forcing us to hear how we communicate, how we react and respond when we make mistakes, how we are when we are tired, hangry, frustrated, as well as when we succeed. Are we passive, aggressive, or passive aggressive? Are we self-focused? Team focused? Do we say what we mean, and mean what we say? Do we tiptoe around things to avoid conflict? For those who are open to their own personal and professional growth, it is an opportunity to truly work on our selves. Rebelles must dig deep and find solutions when lost, broken down, or stuck – literally and/or figuratively.

Another gritty component of the Rebelle Rally is our internal team. Each one has grit. They possess extreme grit and I deem these teammates great, not good. It is a large crew – over 60 in number. The challenge of the 10 sleepless days and nights while covering long distances continually reminds me just how critical staff selection is. Someone who is good yet lacking grit weighs heavy on the others. I have a philosophy that anyone can do anything in this environment for 3 or 4 days, but it all changes when you hit the 6, 7, and 8-day mark. Those who have grit start with a balanced demeanor, and only get better and stronger. They rise to the occasion, and seem to thrive off the challenges. Those who lack it start strong and fade as the grind wears on, ultimately becoming a problem because it gets more difficult on a number of levels over the course of the competition. In many environments, there nothing wrong with “good,” but I need “great,” and great has grit.

The world of off-road, dirt, and adventures beyond pavement has been an important place for me to refine my own level of grit. My gritty determination began when I was younger, from wanting to throw a perfect bullet spiral, to throwing my paper route at 10 years old to buy a skateboard, to not even noticing if I had worked an 18-hour day. But it can’t be denied that dirt is truly a platform for building grit. I think back to a funny day at Laguna Seca about 8 or 9 years ago. I was with Brad Lovell and we were spending three days on pavement. We laughed at some of the pavement racers who would walk away with a look of entitlement and disgust if their car were a split second off pace. We joked because we would push our cars for miles if it meant just finishing. Off the beaten path, due to the sheer inability to get help, you are forced through trying to think of every solution possible. At the Rebelle, instead of calling for help and losing the points, these women push themselves so hard and work creatively and collectively to reach the CP or finish line. Tapping out is the absolute last resort.

Some encouragement for your gritty path:

Through my life, I’ve been given some great opportunities and also dealt some harsh criticism. I heard the words “you don’t know when to give up” more than once. Sometimes it was meant as a compliment, and sometimes a deserved slam. At first I took offense and also thought some were totally off-base, because I saw giving up as failure. With age and more experience, what I have learned is when to move on and how to examine and judge failure, lessons I am sure these mentors were trying to instill. I’ve also learned that working through challenges where the stakes are lower has been an excellent growth platform for me personally and professionally, so I can better handle it when the stakes are the most high.

So a few pieces of advice (that I also find myself needing to reread now and again): proactively find opportunities to build your grit, practice makes perfect, do the work all the way to the finish line even when it is exceptionally difficult, don’t be afraid to fail, and if you want grit, surround yourself with people who possess grit. If you want to be great, surround yourself with great, gritty people.

As a woman and a woman who coaches women, a final note. Step up and put yourself out there. Examine your fear of failure and how you define failure, and when opportunities are put in front of you to learn, grow, and test yourself – take them. Don’t expect someone else to be gritty for you.

And now that I have beat this trendy word to death, let’s all step away and go practice. I’ll be heading to the dirt.

-Emily Miller