Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center


“Surely, all of this is not without meaning.”
Opening chapter of Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This is not a column directly about COVID-19.  I promised myself to write about something different—we get enough talk about COVID-19 on a 24/7 news cycle.  Today’s column is about something that our experience with COVID-19 can produce, however, and that is grit. 

The term grit has been bandied around a great deal in recent years. It is a psychological trait based on a person’s perseverance and resolution to achieve goals in life. If the concept catches your interest, go to YouTube and locate a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD, called “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” She gives a great talk and a succinct definition of grit. 

Dr. Duckworth says natural talent is a marvelous thing to possess; but, those with less innate talent can compensate for it by putting in more effort.  Her research studies included the concept of how people learn—and she looked at students from West Point to the National Spelling Bee to inter-city Chicago public schools. She wanted to know how attitude and various traits, including grit, enhance learning and predict future success.  

This came to mind on Friday, September 11th, just a few days ago, and on the 19th anniversary of the tragic attack that hit our nation that day.  It was during our 08:30 operations Zoom huddle, with numerous participants, that this thought popped into my head.  Let me explain.

By way of remembrance of the 9/11 anniversary, after we had completed our discussion on responding to needs created by COVID-19, I asked for two or three people to tell their personal stories about 9/11. They were poignant.  

One remembered a relative who lived near the World Trade Center, another seeing a train with military equipment pass through Slaton, TX, and a third person spoke of being prompted to enlist in the military based on the attack.  These sincere and heart-felt responses to my question caused me to say, “We lived through 9/11 and now we are living through a pandemic. We can grow from these hard experiences.”  

Hard experiences can produce grit—if we allow them. And, that is not just my opinion. Dr. Abby Rosenberg, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine writes, “What have you done in the past when things were hard? That can help people think about which particular resources they need now.”

Dr. Duckworth’s extensive research on grit identified four key characteristics: deliberate practice, hope, interest, and purpose. All of those items work together. But, hope is so important. The highly regarded leader of American Express during 9/11, Ken Chenault said, “It’s the role of leadership in crisis to convey reality and instill hope.”

It could be said that grit is basically not quitting. I want to give Dr. Duckworth the last word today: “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit has stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out.”