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Commentary: Grit, gratitude and growth

Currently, my grit is being tested and my world view is getting blind-sided with so many unforeseen and unexpected changes. Political decisions, election predictions, economic forecasts and public health emergencies.

This a personal story and also a cautionary tale.

The story relates to motherhood. The tale relates to change, unexpected turns of events and shifts that spin a person’s moral compass.

First, imagine a mother whose two sons, ages 20 and 22 years old are on a surf trip to the Canary Islands. The boys had planned the trip spontaneously, as a bit of a lark, a chance to hang out with each other, go surfing and enjoy the warm weather after a long winter.

In 2005, before widespread use of cellphones and internet, Matthew had been working in a ski resort in Switzerland and Philip had ended his season as a Nordic ski racer in Europe. I pick up the telephone, a landline in the kitchen, and hear Matthew’s voice.

“Hi Mom.”

Obviously, this call was meaningful, because fifteen years later, I remember it clearly.

“Oh. Hello!”

My surprise was genuine, and my maternal instincts did a loop-de-loop from relief, delight, and gratitude to intensity and nervous apprehension.

“Nice to hear your voice. Thanks for calling. How is it going?”

“Great,” he says, “we’re having fun.”

Good, I think. That means they are still together, and I hold the receiver tightly, listening carefully as he continues. 

“I’m standing in a phone booth near the beach. I came in because the waves aren’t very good, and I figured it was a good time to call.”

He is seven time zones away and telling me that the sun is going down, describing the beach, the place they are staying and generally reassuring me that everything is going well and yes, they are still planning to fly home on Tuesday.

“Where’s Phil?” I finally ask.

“Oh, he’s still out in the waves, getting bashed around.”

I hear him chuckle.

“I came in, but I can see him, getting rag-dolled. I don’t know why he’s still out there, still trying. Classic Phil.”

Matthew talks affectionately about his big brother with a laugh and a tease.

According to Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology and author of the book Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, it is grit, more than talent or intellect, that influences a success.

Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals. Grit, perseverance, and passion influence our life journeys.

However, passion needs some self-regulation and self-management. An individual’s ability to voluntarily regulate their behavioral, emotional and attentional impulses grows with maturity.

For parents, teachers, athletes, employers or coaches, grit is part of the long game. Self-control operates at a more micro timescale, as in the "here and now."

Before hanging up, I say with heartfelt appreciation: “Thanks again for calling, honey. Now, please tell Phil to get out of the water.”

My simultaneous surges of relief and joy and gratitude rise on the following Tuesday as the two young men walk through the Security Gate at the Calgary International Airport. I hug them both and in the same nanosecond notice Matthew’s nose.

“What happened?” I ask. They look at each other and somebody holds out a swollen fist with scraped knuckles. The rest of this story is not mine to tell, but at some point, I learn that the word "suckerpunch," means someone gets punched by surprise, a blow that arrives from out of the blue.

Currently, my grit is being tested and my world view is getting blind-sided with so many unforeseen and unexpected changes. Political decisions, election predictions, economic forecasts and public health emergencies.

Time to focus on micro-moment basics. Look both ways. Chew carefully. Wash my hands. Talk to friends. Be kind. Express gratitude.

Over the years, Lorraine Widmer-Carson has worked for Parks Canada, The Whyte Museum, The Friends of BNP, The Banff Centre, and until June 2017, was Executive Director of the Banff Canmore Community Foundation. She and her growing family (including two remarkable granddaughters) celebrated 40 years of owning and operating Ticino Restaurant in 2019. The views expressed are her own and in February 2020 she launched The Gratitude Project. www.lwcbanff.ca. lorraine@lwcbanff.ca



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