Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I started my "read 25 new books" resolution with a bang this year -- three days into the new year and I've already knocked one out. And it wasn't a conscious decision, but I think it was the perfect book with which to start out a new year. It almost makes me want to change my 2017 word to Grit, but I think "Fearless" and "Grit" go hand-in-hand.

Anyway, this book. Incredible. Amazing. Fantastic read. I couldn't put it down. Five stars on GoodReads. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. That last one is just for movies? Oh, well. At its core, this book is about how, in the long run, hard work takes you farther than talent. Effort counts twice. And that is something with which I resonate deeply. I've always, always believed in the power of hard work. I'm living proof of it. And before I go into my gritty anecdotes, please don't think that I've got a perfect grit score. Not even close. But for as long as I can remember, I've taken a lot of pride in being able to say I gave it my all, and that I have nothing left to give.

I could probably take this idea back to my elementary school days, but for the sake of this post, I'll only go as far back as high school. I made straight A's in high school. I was in all the advanced classes, and I truly excelled. I was able to graduate as a "co-valedictorian" (because my school district has a very interesting ranking system). I had quite a few friends who were in the exact same boat. But some of them put in maybe 1/3 the amount of effort I put in to graduate with that medal around my neck.

And that's not to toot my own horn, rather, it's to say that I surrounded myself with some extraordinarily bright friends. I mean, we're talking scary smart. One of my best friends missed just two questions on the SAT. But I digress. I was the kid making straight A's, but I was also the kid who went to tutorials in the morning if I didn't understand something. And in Physics and Calculus, that was a lot of the time. When an APUSH test rolled around every couple of weeks, I was rereading the many textbook pages so that I could be fully absorb every piece of information. I did all of my homework, and then some. I was the flash card queen. I made good grades, but it certainly wasn't effortless. And I have zero regrets about how hard I worked in high school, from freshman year to senior year - I had a social life as well, I promise - because it instilled good habits in me when it came to college. But we'll get there.

Dirty SRDy study room memories
Another area in which grit came into play was volleyball. I don't know how much volleyball you've watched, but at the very least, you probably recognize how very tall most of the girls are. And if you don't know me personally, I'm simply of an average 5'5" height. Considered small in the volleyball world. I was a setter, meaning I was the one who set up the hitters so they could swing away and mark down a kill. 
Setters are the quarterback of the team, and I got to be a part of every single play. And I loved it. And I was a good setter. I met quite a bit of success throughout my career, and while I certainly wouldn't have played at a powerhouse like Texas or Penn State, I probably could have played somewhere collegiately had I chosen that route. 

Following the same pattern as my schoolwork, I worked very, very hard to become the player that I was. I drove 30 minutes each way, three times a week, to condition for 45 minutes, go through 30 minutes of setter training, and then two hours of team practice. And I did this for six years. That doesn't include the bi-monthly tournaments, nor does it include the hours I spent hitting the ball against the side of the house. My parents will tell you how much that cost. But I had a pretty mean serve because of it. It doesn't include the camps I was fortunate enough to attend, nor the private lessons I took in order to refine my skills. I once asked for a special setter ball for Christmas so that I could get more repetitions and strengthen my wrists while I was watching television.

Did I make mistakes? Absolutely. I made mistakes up until my very last game, but I didn't let them control me. I only let them motivate me to work even harder so that I wouldn't repeat them.

In college, when I was taking my first real English class as an official English major, I brought home a D on my very first paper. I had never even seen a grade that low on a piece of my writing, and I was absolutely crushed, as there was no way to recover from this grade and make an A in the class. Of course, my first thought was maybe that English wasn't the major for me. Maybe I wasn't as great a writer as I thought I was. And I wasn't. But that was the last time I saw a D on any one of my English papers. My Astronomy exams, now, that's a whole other story. Anyway, that poor grade motivated me to change my approach to the papers I was assigned. I began to write drafts, go to office hours, and go to the writing center, that semester and the remainder of my semesters. Eventually, I learned how to analyze text and develop my own voice, and the B+ I received in that first English class was the most proud I've ever been of a grade. Because of how hard I worked for it.

In one final personal example, let's talk running. You guys know that running has been a big part of my life for about six years now. Up until this past summer, I saw running as a way to stay in shape. I saw it as my time to think. And I enjoyed signing up for races as a way to challenge myself and push myself to run farther, but I had never pushed myself in terms of speed. In a sense, I never knew how good I could be at running. And at the beginning of this "deliberate running", we'll call it, I failed many a time. I mean we're talking, "Maybe I should quit running and take up Zumba" failure. It was hard. And it's still hard. And I still fail. But I have a purpose and a goal when I run. And while it may not always be fun (I'm talking to you, Thursday tempo runs), that deliberate practice is going to (hopefully) show on January 15th when I take on the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. I'm not the most talented runner. Not even close. Hard work just really, really matters.

This book stands out to me because I really and truly felt as though I was having a coffee (if I drank coffee, that is) with Mrs. Duckworth. It's personal, it's backed with an insane amount of research that actually makes sense to me, and I just can't stop thinking about it. Granted, I just finished reading it last night. But I think everyone should read it. It's applicable to so many aspects of life, and it certainly resonated with me in terms of running, but it really hit home for me as a high school teacher and coach. Particularly the idea of a fixed vs. growth mindset. This absolutely kills me, but for whatever reason, so many of my students are of the fixed mindset that "school just isn't for them," and I'll have players tell me, "I'm just not good at setting (or whatever skill)." Whatever the reason for that type of mindset, as we begin this spring semester, I want my students and players to develop a growth mindset. I want them to know that their "ability to learn is based on their effort, their hard work, and their dedication," not what they've been told in the past. I want them to take on the hard things, and push themselves beyond what they think they can do. I want them to challenge themselves beyond what they may believe to be possible. Failure isn't forever. Failure is motivation to get up and start again. To persevere and stick with it. So much of life is about effort. You have to ask yourself how badly you want something, and how hard you are willing to work to get it.

The conclusion of this book is what really hit me. It reads, "To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight." This book is challenging. This book is powerful. It fires me up, and it gives me hope. Like we were told when we were little kids, when we fall off our bikes, we've got to get back up and try again.

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