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NEWS | Feb. 4, 2014

True grit

By Lt. Col. Matthew Krauchunas 628th Medical Support Squadron commander

There has been much talk recently about resiliency and most of us have attended an eight-hour resiliency class by now. The discussion and training are designed to help us bounce back from adversity. If we turn the prism a bit, we come to a similar, but less talked about concept: grit. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grit as "firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger."

So what is the big deal about grit? Grit is a pivotal trait because it is the essential ingredient of turning your dreams into reality. It was, and continues to be, the cornerstone of the "American dream." C.V. White stated, "The man who makes a success of an important venture never wails for the crowd. He strikes out for himself. It takes nerve, it takes a great lot of grit; but the man that succeeds has both."

I was watching a Ted Talks video the other day when I came across one about Diana Nyad. This extraordinary woman recently swam 110 miles, non-stop and physically unassisted, from Cuba to Key West, Fla. The almost 53-hour swim is a remarkable feat in of itself. However, even more remarkable is the fact that she is the first person in the world to accomplish this, she is 64 years old, and this was her fifth attempt. Her initial attempt dates back to 1978 when she was in her late 20s. She never gave up hope and worked doggedly over 35 years to turn her dream into reality. This is a perfect example of true grit.

There are examples of grit around us every day if we take the time look for it. Think about the senior airman taking two college classes each semester in her relentless pursuit of a bachelor's degree while raising a family on her own. Consider the captain who was injured in Afghanistan and continues to rehab because he wants to take a PT test without being on a medical profile. Take into account a civilian colleague who has had his wages frozen for three years, faced furloughs, but continues as a civil servant because he believes he is making a difference in the lives of our Airmen and Sailors. On top of which, he aspires to be member of the senior executive service so he can have an even greater impact. These are but a few examples of grit, but the list is practically endless.

When all is said and done, we could all use more grit. The first step is to reflect on what we hope to accomplish personally and/or professionally. What are your dreams? If you add those aspirations to an honest assessment of where you stand, you can formulate a path to realizing this dream. I say "a" path instead of "the" path because life is going to knock you around and off of this path. However, at least you will have a vector and this will enable course corrections to help get you to where you want to go. The final step is to never give up hope regardless of the obstacle(s) encountered - you need grit! It is continuing to kick towards Key West despite the onset of hypothermia, delirium, sharks in the water, or the blackness of night.

There is a bit more to the story about the Diana Nyad. She physically completed the swim by herself unaided by hanging on to a float or boat. However, she had a team with her throughout her swim to monitor her safety and provide fresh water, nourishment and encouragement. We need to do the same for our work colleagues. We need to encourage calculated risk taking, reward tenacity, help remove obstacles and not accept excuses when someone wants to quit striving for their goals. Moreover, we must not penalize failure when their gritty efforts fall short. To quote the original 1969 True Grit movie, "They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit." We should all want gritty Airmen, Sailors and civil servants in these challenging times. It is up to us as leaders and colleagues to do our part to help them succeed.