Chicago Lawyer -

Chewing dirt: On the true meaning of true grit

July 10, 2017
By Camille Khodadad
Camille Khodadad is a partner at Hall Prangle & Schoonveld. The head of the employment law group and member of the commercial litigation group, she is a frequent speaker on current trends in employment law and issues pertaining to women in the workplace.

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word grit? I asked some of my colleagues (female and male) and here is what they said:

  • “John Wayne and chewing dirt”
  • “Clint Eastwood and harsh”
  • “Clenched teeth and grime”
  • “Eating raw meat”

While all of the above statements in some way capture what traditionally has been viewed as grit (my favorite is “chewing dirt”), the term has now taken on a different meaning. It has come to signify a new measure of effort that has many applications, including determining which women tend to succeed in the law.

So what is grit? In her book “Grit,” Angela Duckworth defines it as having the passion and perseverance to achieve long-term goals. It involves having a sustained drive that serves as a compass and the determination to stay the course. A gritty person is someone who continues to challenge herself, move forward despite adversity and picks herself up when she has fallen down.

Grit does not exist in isolation. It goes hand in hand with having a “growth mindset.” People with a growth mindset meet adversity with perseverance and see it as an opportunity to make them stronger. They view their abilities as something that can be changed and developed through hard work. In contrast, people with a “fixed mindset” avoid adversity at any cost, resulting in a conscious choice to stay away from challenges or give up too easily. They view their abilities as predetermined and unchangeable.

An important thing to remember is that grit has everything to do with drive and determination and little to do with stubbornness and arrogance. In fact, gritty people are often gracious and collegial.

Grit has become the new buzzword because of its influence on success. While confidence, talent and skills are important qualities, Duckworth considers grit to be one of the greatest predictors of who will succeed. For example, Duckworth studied cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Despite the qualifications and extreme vetting of those who are admitted to West Point, one in five will drop out before graduation. Her study showed that grit — not talent — was the more accurate predictor of who would stay in the program.

In the context of the legal profession, grit has been shown to be an accurate predictor of success for women in the largest law firms. Milana Hogan conducted a study of female lawyers in the top 200 Am Law firms. Rather than focus on what prevents them from succeeding, Hogan focused on uncovering characteristics common among women who succeed in that environment. Her study found a significant correlation between grit and a growth mindset and success.

Recognizing the significant role that grit plays in the success of women in the legal field, the American Bar Association on Women in the Profession created the Grit Project.

The goal of the project is to educate female law students and lawyers about the importance of having grit and a growth mindset with the view toward enhancing the promotion of women in the legal profession. The project has created a toolbox to assist bar associations, law firms and corporate legal departments with developing these qualities in female lawyers.

Let’s face it, attorneys by definition are gritty. If you are a woman or a minority, you are likely especially gritty. Why? Historically the process for women and minorities to enter and remain in the law has been more challenging than for others. Nonetheless, most of us can benefit from becoming grittier.

Need some grit goals? First, focus on changing your mentality. Find your passion and compass and then create a clearly defined vision of your long-term goals. Knowing that you can overcome adversity, challenge yourself every day. And when you fall down — which you will — pick yourself up and continue to move forward.

Second, surround yourself with a gritty environment — one that encourages and rewards hard work, passion and perseverance. That environment may include the people you work with or your family and friends. Grittiness is contagious. Just remember, if you are interested in becoming a grittier person, there are ways to do it … without chewing dirt.

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