By default, women famous for their accomplishments are highlighted throughout Women’s History Month. Society looks to prominent women as role models exemplifying idealistic aspirations of achievement. Often, their humble beginnings are overlooked as emphasis is placed on successes and outcomes. With few exceptions, famous women did not begin their lives as famous people. Their experiences, family upbringing, life-learnings, challenges, and accomplishments cultivated into opportunities at the right time. Famous women made history by taking action. One should never assume history is past tense. History continues evolving and growing organically, providing new opportunities to add accomplishments.
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, explains extremely successful individuals demonstrate unusually high levels of resiliency and hard work. These individuals have an intrinsic understanding of their desired goals and are determined to achieve them. Gritty people combine hard work, resiliency, and drive with a sense of direction.
Grit is a trait that transcends talents, aptitudes, and socioeconomic factors. Grit encompasses the choice to remain passionate and persevere against all obstacles to accomplish goals. My grandmother demonstrated this quality by successfully raising small children after becoming widowed by my grandfather’s sudden death in his 40’s. My mother earned a law degree when her four children were in elementary and middle school. My aunt earned a doctoral degree, despite battling breast cancer. Regardless of challenges faced, successes and goals were realized.
Each of us has a history built upon years of personal experience. I credit much of my own history to wisdom and knowledge gained from my family. As I reflect upon my personal family history, I find many of the lessons learned were the result of generational grit.
Although a powerful influence on who I am today, I cannot attribute generational grit only to the women in my family. My mother and father were equitable collaborators, building upon each other’s skills and strengths repeatedly. My father was a pastor and officer in the Army National Guard, receiving much recognition throughout both careers. My father’s work required our family to move multiple times throughout my childhood, exposing us to new places, different schools, and diverse peer groups.
Growing up in a household with an attorney mother and a father serving dual roles in the ministry and military taught my siblings and me a lot about the value of hard work, dedication, resiliency, and overcoming adversity. They imparted many positive standards, particularly the values of family support and education. My parents also taught us the importance of outreach and service to others.
Although raised in the same household, my siblings and I are uniquely different. My parents never attempted to force us into specific degree or career paths. We each had a deep understanding of direction and purpose, but not step-by-step instructions on how to achieve it. The grit instilled in my family was realized in my generation as all four children graduated from college. My sisters went on to earn master’s degrees, and I am the first one in my generation to earn a doctoral degree. We use our success to teach\train others in our respective careers, and are actively engaged in outreach throughout our communities.
I see similar characteristics growing in my children as my daughters pursue educational goals, and my youngest son begins the arduous task of applying to colleges. I see values of hard work and lifelong learning instilled in them. They also demonstrate a passion for helping others through their actions and activities. My grandchildren, looking to their parents as role models and teachers, are beginning to demonstrate resiliency and a passion for learning too. The legacy of generational grit lives on.
Women’s History Month provides us opportunity to reflect upon our own grit. What generational lessons and values do you carry forward? How have personal challenges and obstacles pushed your resiliency? What are your deeply inherent values and passions? How do these values and passions affect your goals? What influences are driving your current actions?
This Women’s History Month, I celebrate the accomplishments of women who used personal grit to realize achievement. Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, Union spy, nurse, and women’s suffrage supporter, led slaves to freedom as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad despite a bounty on her head. Alice Paul, whose women’s suffrage protests and subsequent abuse during imprisonment, led to a constitutional amendment giving all female citizens in the United States the right to vote. Polish social worker Irena Sendlerowa smuggled 2,500 Jewish children and babies from the Warsaw ghetto to rescue them from the Nazis. Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist, credited with advancing environmental conservation movements on a global scale, despite attacks from the chemical industry and government factions. Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for continuing to advocate educational rights for Muslim girls despite being shot in the face by the Taliban when she was 15 years old. (A&E Television Networks, 2018; Biography.com Editors, 2019; Connolly, 2007; Duckworth, 2016; History.com Editors, 2018; www.rachelcarson.org 1996)
History is evolving. Look at the accomplishments of great women and realize many of them started with the same or less resources than you have right now. I challenge you to transform your opinions and wishes into action. Find your grit to achieve greatness, while leading others to do the same. Collaborate equitably with diverse people. Find great women to mentor you. Leave your comfort zones and find courage to try something new. Be the driver of your own actions, and guard yourself from becoming a passenger driven by negative influences.
Through personal transformation, you can become a member of the Culture of Gritty Women.