A few of my friends and family had shared on social media a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, Ph.D on the #1 predictor of success, when all other factors had been considered. You can watch the video if you’d like, but to sum it up: it all comes down to resilience, or grit, as she calls it.
She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals; having stamina; sticking with your future day in and day out for years, working really hard to make that future a reality. “
And her short TED talk from 4 years ago ends there, because no one had done much research on grit yet. Then a year ago, Angela wrote a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. While I have not read her book, I’ve watched a few of her interviews and think as Catholics, we need to be talking more about grit!
Because the Catholic Church has a rich and gritty history. Check out the Google definition of fortitude:
noun: courage in pain or adversity.
"she endured her illness with great fortitude"
Synonyms: courage, bravery, endurance, resilience, mettle, moral fiber, strength of mind, strength of character, strong-mindedness, backbone, spirit, grit, true grit, doughtiness, steadfastness
A synonym for grit is fortitude. Not only is fortitude one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given at Baptism and Confirmation, it is also one of the four Cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. These virtues are cardinal because they play a pivotal role in all other virtues.
I’ll let the Catechism explain it best:
1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song."70 "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."71
1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.109 They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
1837 Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.
In one of her interviews, Angela Lee Duckworth describes grit as the “daily discipline of trying to get better.” Catholic author/speaker Matthew Kelly has described holiness as becoming the best-version-of-yourselves. So it seems to me that growing in holiness is, by Angela’s definition, grit. And if we are living an authentically Catholic life, isn’t the pursuit of holiness what our life is all about? Holiness is the underlying goal that propels us to work hard at our jobs, be generous with our time and money, and love our families.
Angela goes on to say that people with grit are “…people are who are going to stick with things when they are hard.” Grittiness from the Holy Spirit is what has allowed the Church to survive over the last two thousand years. If you look at Church history, in every country and in every age since the time of Christ, someone has been trying to kill off Christians. This is no less true today, when we consider the bombings of Christians in countries like Syria and Egypt. Still, the Church has survived because of grit, because the Holy Spirit has given us the strength and perseverance to carry on our mission of evangelization.
Consider St. Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs, or St. Paul Miki and the Japanese martyrs, St. Jose Sanchez del Rio during the Mexican Revolution, St. Thomas More in England, or St. Maximilian Kolbe in Auschwitz. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of early Church martyrs like St. Cecilia or St. Lawrence.
It is grit that allows you, when you are burned alive over a flaming grill for not renouncing your faith, to say “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”
It is grit that moves you to take the place of another man at the hands of the Nazis and minister to the other prisoners until your last breath.
It is grit that keeps you strong when the soles of your feet are cut off and you have to dig your own grave, but at the young age of 13 you still can say, “Long live Christ the King.”
It is grit that drives you back into the Native American tribe that mutilated your hands and tortured you for 13 months, just so that they could hear the Gospel. Although St. Jogues was decapitated by those he was trying to minister to, the seed of faith was planted. The seed of the Gospel that St. Kateri Tekakwitha would eventually hear to become the first Native American saint. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” Tertullian once said.
So where is Catholic grit today? Grit has always been around, but it seems to be more rare in our present American culture. Our culture worships comfort more than anything else, but does it satisfy us? I think people are interested in Angela Lee Duckworth’s work because we desire grit. We want to have passion and purpose in life, and it’s the Holy Spirit who breathes that life into us.
Here are some ways that growing in grit, or fortitude, can help us in our every day life:
- Going to work every day and doing the best we can at our jobs to provide for our families
- Practicing NFP by diligently recording observations and discerning children.
- Overcoming addictions to pornography, alcohol, or even Netflix and social media.
- Working out problems in your marriage when it would be easier to just call it quits.
- Standing up for the unborn, the elderly, and the disabled even when lawmakers seem to be against them.
- Abstaining from sex before marriage, knowing that it requires self-control and that your bodies will speak truth on your wedding day.
- Rejecting the terms of our relativistic culture and living our faith even when it is inconvenient, unpopular, or difficult.
Fortitude can keep families together and marriages strong if we work to cultivate it in our lives. How do we do that, though? Angela Lee Duckworth has her principles of deliberate practice: have a specific goal, have 100% focus, get feedback, and continually refine/reflect on what you need to work on. This blends seamlessly with the call to holiness in our daily lives.
Each day in our spiritual lives we can put into these principles through daily prayer, regularly examining our conscience, practicing charity towards others, and the grace from the Sacraments. We are instructed to regularly examine our conscience, confess our sins, and have contrition for them. We participate in Christ’s sacrifice every time we are at Mass. The Church helps us to grow in virtue not only through the gift of the Spirit but also through the liturgical year. Twice a year in Advent and Lent we have penitential seasons of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. This strengthens our resolve to do good and strive for sanctity when it is not easy or comfortable.
By living a fully Catholic faith, it will make you “successful” in Dr. Angela Duckworth’s sense of the word. You may not be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but your life will have meaning and you will overcome obstacles. You will have the passion and perseverance to run the race, as St. Paul puts it, knowing that life is a marathon and not a sprint.
Finally, Dr. Duckworth ends with the encouragement that failure is not a permanent condition. Grit is accessible over time if we are practicing it every day. The virtues are only strengthened in our lives when we work out our spiritual muscles. It takes practice and getting up over and over again to grow in fortitude. Know that the Lord never gives up on you! He will forgive you over and over again, and gave us the Sacraments for this very reason!
If we practice Dr. Duckworth’s principles for grit in light of our faith, it could really be transforming. Let’s call on the Holy Spirit, get off our metaphorical couch, and get gritty!