The Great Equalizer


As I gasped for breath and kicked my bulky legs violently against the water, I thought to myself one goal:  Do not get out of the water.  As yelling traversed the pool deck and I looked on to my classmates equally struggling for air, I secretly kicked the side of the wall for just a second of reprieve.  “This is side Over, this side Under,” the dreaded command to swim to the bottom of the 9 ft pool touch the bottom and continue to swim without goggles across the deep end in one breath.  As the foggy black lines came closer and left and as I felt that undeniable yearning to breathe I climbed my way up to the surface, gasping for breath.  Loud voices yelling to ‘Leave Surface’ were all around me as I saw I was the only one on surface. Another breath and more ineffective kicking as I returned to the dreaded black lines beneath me.

What supersedes money, nepotism, beauty, talent, strength and intelligence? Even with all of these positive attributes, what can overcome the unfair advantages of our competitors?  Quite simply it is one personality trait.  One trait that can be applied to any field in any country and in any system.

That is Grit.  The combination of courage, perseverance, excellence, resilience and long term follow through.  Nowadays there’s lots of talk about wanting to become a SEAL, a Green Beret, Physician, Lawyers, etc…but what is the best measure to see if people succeed?  It is the day in, day out grind.  The ability to take the ups and the downs, and to not necessarily be a perfectionist or the best at one thing but to be appreciate one’s own excellence.  To do something with integrity and to do it correctly every day.

For me, this particular swimming exercise was part of training.  A test of one’s grit.  Every day for weeks, I performed ‘over-unders’ with extreme dread deep down in my heart.  By no means was I a talented swimmer and there was no way any financial gain or legacy would help me in this situation.  My book smarts were useless and any athletic prowess I had was a hindrance to helping me float in the water.

Now would I say I’m the best Navy Diver?  The best in my Dive School Class?  Certainly not by any means.  But I never got out of the water and that was the best for me and I graduated right on time.  If you’d like to learn more about the research behind this fascinating personality trait read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. (See Sidebar if link doesn’t work)