The Dark Side Of Grit – Or What’s Actually Wrong With Grit

Praised as the essential part of the potion of success, grit has been hailed as the it factor, even more important than intelligence. So, if many successful people actually had grit, what’s wrong with it, and what is its’ dark side?

What no one is measuring when they evaluate someone’s level of success is the collateral damage leaders endured privately in order to reach it – for ex. experiencing divorce, loss of close friends, loss of good physical health, deteriorating mental health, possible suicidal thoughts, borderline integrity and ethics issues, lack of balance in life, and general lack of fulfillment.

These negative experiences are, in my opinion and experience, a direct result of grit. This is because grit excludes emotions, or better yet it asks that you “manage” them well.

From my experience of working with high-impact leaders, many of them have difficulty managing emotions well – what they do instead is suppress, reject or completely avoid them. So “managing emotions” part in grit boils down to suppression.

By suppressing or ignoring emotions when they arise, a leader loses many of his/hers inherent capabilities – such as aligned strategic decision-making, ability to gauge current situations in a realistic manner, ability to relate to others in a rewarding manner, ability to pick the right talent etc.

If this is applied during a long period of time as grit certainly asks for, it can also lead to a downward spiral in their personal life where the persons emotional health is jeopardized and they start experiencing high anxiety and stress levels, paranoia, and even suicidal thoughts, with some even committing suicide.

We saw a couple of recent tragic examples with suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Antony Bourdain – both very successful, and both, obviously, deeply burdened.

Instead of glorifying grit, and even teaching it to kids as some proponents would have it, I suggest we take an honest look at what the real collateral damage of grit is, and ask ourselves a profound question – am I willing to lose my humanity and emotional health in order to be highly successful? Is this the kind of success I am after?

In my coaching work, it has become apparent that leaders yearn to reframe the existing success paradigms that are based on grit, and truly get excited about designing a completely new, aligned and more rewarding approaches to achieving same goals and objectives, yet without the heavy personal collateral damage.

They are rejecting or better yet updating the John Wayne archetype of grit, and making life changing decisions to base their businesses and life equally on values of being real, capable, strong, as well as being vulnerable, sensitive and creative.

This new paradigm of success is based on human sustainability and profitability, and is boosting creativity and innovation left and right, as leaders tap into new internal resources, as well as design new processes and systems, that align with their core values.

So, isn’t it time to let go of grit as a singular way to achievement, and start uncovering new paradigms that empower human beings to succeed on their own terms?

2 COMMENTS

  1. “So [the] ‘managing emotions’ part in grit boils down to suppression.” Thank you thank you thank you, Dunja. I admit I did not dive into grit when it recently became such a popular term, for exactly the reason you describe here. It reminds me of the “gritting of teeth.” I have experienced TMJ pain, so “gritting” of any sort is not appealing to me.

    I appreciate perseverance, resilience, commitment, and self-care when responding to stumble, or taking a considered break after a fall — all descriptions I prefer vs what “grit” conjurs up for me.

    I am delighted to read that you are encountering (and coaching) leaders who, “yearn to reframe the existing success paradigms that are based on grit, and truly get excited about designing a completely new, aligned and more rewarding approaches to achieving same goals and objectives, yet without the heavy personal collateral damage.” More power to you!

  2. I think that GRIT is important in the business world and in school at all grades and it should be coached at all levels. We must have GRIT to succeed in what we do however we must also have an coached internal governor so that we do not step over the line and destory ourselves personally and professionally.
    In my drive to succeed I lost my first wife and it took a long time to gain back the trust of my children. I did not have that governor mentioned above.
    There are better approaches but at least in the business world the leaders at companies must understand work life balance which is a conversation that all communities have not yet addressed and put into practice as well as they should.