This is How you Find your Calling. And get Great at it. (#grittyAF)
Recently, for at least the fourth time, I reread Grit by Angela Duckworth, a study in examining the fact that success often lies not in our inborn talent, but in our ability to develop a passion and persevere.
It’s an empowering book that I’d urge you to check out if you’re feeling at all lost in any area of your life. Each and every one of us, regardless of our level of achievement, could probably point to somewhere our lives where we’d like to be more successful. For many of us, it’s fitness (weight loss, muscle gain, lifting 74 blue whales, you name it), but it probably bleeds into other places too, because, hey, let’s face it: it wasn’t until I got really honest with myself that I admitted that I was struggling with work for the same reason I was struggling with fitness for the same reason that I was struggling in my relationships: I sucked at doing what I said I was going to do 100% of the times the opportunities presented themselves.
Being a lifelong athlete, I was raised to finish what I start. From as young as I can remember, I was allowed to quit any sport I wanted and try something new, but I had to wait until the end of the season. I couldn’t leave my teammates high and dry. I had to honor the commitment I made. It was a wonderful lesson that has carried over into so many parts of my life.
Except not everything in life works in that clear-cut way. For example, my creative work comes in bursts. There isn’t a “natural end” or a “season” to self-employment, unless I just decide to quit. Much like any fitness goal we have, this is a lifelong process; we’re here in these bodies and these lives forever, so we don’t have a deadline, but we do want to continually move forward, at least a little, yes?
That just-work-harder athlete mentality really messes with my head in this journey sometimes. I’m sure you can relate. I feel an intense shame spiral much like that I experienced in binge-eating-disordered episodes or in my failures at 12-week weight loss plans:” success is for those other people who are smarter/better/more gifted than I;” “I don’t deserve it, because I can’t stick to anything;” “I’ve failed before (*replays that time I trained for a figure competition for exactly 4 days before I said f that, or that time I said I was never eating an Oreo again, only to eat an entire sleeve an hour later, etc. etc.*), so why is now any different?” Etc. etc. You know the drill, because we all do.
But if we’re done playing small (which, if you’re here, you are), we’ve gotta realize that we’re worthy. One day, we just have to decide. It’s really that simple. Not necessarily easy, but it is simple.
You can lose that weight. Or squat over 200lbs. Or finally quit binge eating for good. Or really know what it feels like to be at home in your body.
We all can. We just have to develop the passion and perseverance to stay the course, participate in the trip, and find sustainable solutions that we turn into habits.
One of my favorite passages in Grit is where she discusses that,
The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary. Dan Chambliss, the sociologist who completed [this] study, observed: “superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence…greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”
According to Nietzsche, your second-favorite psychologist, “our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius. For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking…to call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’” AKA, the next time you write someone off as a natural talent where you’d like to succeed, realize what you’re doing: you’re letting yourself off the hook! And being okay with mediocre! Are you alright with that? Thought not. So, rather than success being for other people born with some superhuman freak ability to just be “naturals,” we see, unequivocally and through years of research, that, more than anything, success and achievement are the result of developing a passion and seeing it through.
How do we do this?
Some actionable tips that I’ve found helpful are as follows:
1. Pick an interest and explore it for a year (or until its natural end). I don’t find many of us that experience some deep calling and just KNOW that this is what we’re meant to do. I think that’s abnormal. I haven’t experienced it, anyway, either personally or observationally. Many of us would be served by following an interest – which includes fitness, since this is where most of our goals are here: powerlifting, bodybuilding, marathons, triathlons, you name it – and pursuing it relentlessly for a defined amount of time.
2. Practice every day. 10m of writing, 4m meditations, walk into the gym and claim your spot, go on a 10m run, whatever. The routine will help us when times get hard – when we run up against the resistance and find a place in our pursuit where it doesn’t come so easily. Habit is where the magic lies: setting the alarm and getting to the gym, we have consistency, so even when we don’t want to, and where we would’ve allowed ourselves to quit before and be right in the same place we are right now, pursuing the goal for the 532098th time, this time, we have the passion and consistency to trek forward anyway. Passion is developed through persistence; it doesn’t usually just fall into our laps. It’s sort of a chicken-or-the-egg question: do you do it so much because you love it, or do you love it because it’s become a part of you? In most people, the answer is both. So, pick something that’s interesting, and go all in, not letting yourself out when it gets hard, navigating the waves, and seeing where it takes you for a season.
3. Maintain a standard of excellence. Work on one weakness at a time, perfecting the finer points. Recognize that, as scholar and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (real name, quite a doozy, try saying it 3 times fast.) says, “Even when the learning is hard, it is not bitter when you feel that it is worth having, that you can master it, that practicing what you learned will express who you are and help you achieve what you desire.” We’re developing skills that will not only help in the detective mission of getting to know our bodies, but that will carry over to getting to know ourselves, our limits, and our desires, increasing our chances for success across the board.
There’s no deadline on any of it. Fitness, like many things in life, but contrary to societal messages, presents boundless opportunities for expansion. We get to choose to push our limits, to realize we can set goals and smash them, to develop the competence and confidence to push through the hard, ride the waves, and come out where we set out to be.
If you feel so called, hop on Facebook and commit to a new practice today! Or just say hi (I dig new friends). You can find the related post here.