For my undergraduate education, I attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where I grew up. During the second semester of my freshman year I joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. We would hold our weekly chapter meetings every Monday night and recite a famous quote by former president and fellow "Fiji" Calvin Coolidge.
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
At this point in my life I didn't quite grasp the magnitude of what persistence and determination would mean to me. Or how successful people don't have greater luck than others. They work hard to create and seize opportunities that drive them towards achieving goals with a clear vision.
This applies to both our personal and professional lives. No matter what success means to the individual, studies actually show that those who exhibit more "grit" and persistence have a better chance of reaching milestones and exceeding personal goals.
And guess what? Grit, like many other competencies, is something that can be developed with practice. After graduating from SMU with degrees in finance and economics, I accepted a position as a financial analyst with Trammell Crow Company. During this time I was training with one of my fraternity brothers who was preparing to join the Navy after he graduated a year behind me. He had set a lofty goal to become a Navy SEAL. At the time, my perspective was that he was being highly unrealistic. This was apparently the most challenging Special Operations training and selection process in the world. But I was on board to support my friend and help him prepare.
Over time, I became more and more fascinated with the Navy SEAL high-performance culture and never-quit mentality. I realized that outside of participating in sports such as swimming and rugby and having hobbies like skydiving, I had never truly tested my limits. I had never set and achieved a goal that seemed totally insurmountable. So one day, while sifting through mounds of financial data at work, I had an epiphany. I was going to serve my country as a Navy SEAL.
Our training regimen intensified over the coming months in preparation for entering the Navy in June of 2000. Every night after work I would run four miles to the pool at SMU, swim two miles, then run four miles home. On Saturdays we would run twenty miles around White Rock Lake. Seeking to push ourselves further we later moved to Crested Butte, CO to train for an additional four months at 10,000 FT altitude before surrendering our lives to US military.
I started realizing that the mental and physical aspects of becoming more "gritty" are not mutually exclusive. One's mind could be strengthened by pushing the body beyond perceived limits. That mental strength could then be leveraged to overcome other types of obstacles.
In September of 2000, I was standing on the beach in Coronado alongside my newly formed BUD/s Class (SEAL training class). Months later only twenty-three of the original class of over two hundred graduated. I get asked all the time what the hardest part of training was. For some it was being cold and wet all the time, for others it was certain physical evolutions they couldn't pass. For many, it was the overwhelming stress. I could have never hand picked the group standing next to me at graduation. The crucible of SEAL training is all about grit. You either have it or learn to rapidly develop it. Those that don't are of course provided other great opportunities to serve in a different capacity.
On September 11, 2001, we all realized that our grit would now be battle-tested. And it was, many times over the years ahead.
Later, as an entrepreneur trying to pave my way through the world of start-ups, capital raising, successes and failures, I again learned that determination carried more weight than intelligence and talent. I also spent several years during this time as a full-time single parent to a very young son. I am not sure which was harder. That, or SEAL training! During those times when I wanted to lock myself in my room and scream, I would reflect on the last line in the Navy SEAL Creed: "I am never out of the fight." I can't think of a single successful entrepreneur who hasn't experienced hardship along the way. Those that learn to manage fear, push forward and navigate the inevitable obstacles ultimately find success.
I know there will be many more tests in this life that will require grit and determination in order to come out on the other side stronger and wiser. But there are four pieces of advice I would offer:
1. Find purpose in everything you do. Otherwise what's the point? The most successful people love what they do and feel connected to a purpose they believe to be greater than themselves. They lead change, innovate and find ways to make the world a better place even if it's in the smallest way.
2. Connect that purpose to your values. I get it. Sometimes we just need to get a job, pay the bills and keep moving forward despite life's many obstacles. Throughout my many experiences though, I have found one commonality regardless of what "job" someone is in. The happiest people find ways to think about their lives and careers in ways other than what you would find in a job description. Find links between what you do and more importantly, why.
3. Develop an optimistic outlook. Mental fortitude is what gets you through SEAL training. It keeps you vigilant in combat. It helps the strong overcome illnesses. It's the foundation behind successful business leaders. Negativity is not only pointless but it completely inhibits one's ability to maintain focus on specific goals. It clouds the once clear vision. Don't get distracted by the pitfalls. Leap over them and crush your goals.
4. Silence the inner critic. We all have one. Ignore it. Getting outside of our comfort zones is when the real magic starts to happen. Another one of our many sayings in the SEAL teams is "Get comfortable being uncomfortable." The more we push ourselves beyond what we think are our limits, the larger that comfort zone becomes. Then things that used to seem impossible become part of our everyday lives.
In his poem 'Death Song,' (which is ironically about seizing all life has to offer) Tecumseh closes with this:
"When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."
Be all in, all the time. Embrace the suck as the saying goes. There is no greater feeling than knowing you leave everything you have on the battlefield of life.