Letter No 107 - Gritty or not, just chill

Dear friend,

Today I writing to you something that I wrote almost 6 years ago as a script for a TEDx talk. Actually I'm doing my 2nd ever TEDx talk on Saturday. I'm excited. As I was preparing for it, I read through my earlier one. Some things occurred to me. I'm going to let you read it first and then I'll keep adding my commentary on it. So, here goes...

Did you ever start a new years resolution with great enthusiasm?
Did you ever forget about your resolution within a few weeks??
Did you ever decide that ‘from now on I am going to be more consistent with my… reading, pairing, cooking, writing, exercise, daily diary??’
Did you ever start doing something, keep at it for sometime, have some achievements, feel really good, and then and then give up??

I have done all of these, and more!

I was brilliant at computer programming when I was 15 years old. I stood 4th in the world in the Internation computer problem solving competition. I wrote my own pacman game using Pascal when I was 16. All that when the PC had just been introduced, with the green screen, and all of 1028 KB of RAM! There were no tutorials, books and online courses out there. I was self taught. I was on my way to geek heaven! By now, I could have been a coding star!

But, I gave up. I just left it. I got bored. I just dropped it and never got back.

I would study last few weeks and get good marks. My sister would study around the year and get even better marks. I never stuck to anything long enough to get mastery. I learn't to play the mouth organ for six months. I was ok at it. I did art classes for a few years. I was good, and had to potential to be great. My sister became a part of a youth organization and stuck to it for four years and rose in hierarchy. I was bright. She was - was Angela Duckworth - one of the world’s leading research on what help students succeed - calls ‘grit’. Her ability to stick to things has helped her tremendously in her life - with her career, her being a mother of special needs child and today a source of support and inspiration to dozens of parents and even doctors.


Grit is my ability to stick to projects and interest for a long time - in years. Gritty people don’t give up when things get boring or hard. Angela’s research showed that grit accounts for career success, relationship stability, good health habits and overall wellbeing, far more than any other factor including education, family background, financial status and even IQ.

Yes, I was a talented programmer and I had some achievements. Yet, had I stuck to it, I could have done much more. I was a good artist, but had I been consistent, I could have been much better. I was a good student, but I not slowed down, I could have done much more. Today I can see it. I have discovered grit. It has made all the difference.


Here's my commentary. It's been 6 years. I had built grit. But then I lost it. And I beat myself over it a lot. I literally slammed myself, berated myself, and put myself feel down. How could I have lost it. How could I have let myself slip? I stopped worked out, meditating, eating right, etc etc etc. But I did.

And you know what. Now I feel it's ok too. There is no one thing that is the absolutely right thing. Grit is beautiful. So is letting go. Read on...


So, how to build grit? How to make those resolutions work out? This is a question that behavioural scientists and educators around the world are attempting to answer.

We now understand that being gritty is very important, but we are still experimenting with how exactly to get gritty.

Well, here is a simple idea I’d like to present to all of us today.

Around the age of 35, I hit a phase of my life that now I can best describe as a kind of a midlife crisis. I was doing well with my work but I felt very incomplete. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. On weekdays I spends hours late into the night flicking channels on satellite TV. My wife Aarti says I was impossible, especially on holidays and Sundays. I was restless. I just couldn't enjoy time together. I wanted to go somewhere, do something, watch something, eat something, listen to something.


Commentary - oops, I feel I hit a second mid-life crisis at 45 :-)

What a roller coaster ride.


Personally, for me the answer came when when a few years ago, I decided to re-start painting. I picked up the brush after 20 years. I fixed a time of 2pm to 3pm on Sundays, and made sure I didn’t miss these appointments with myself. Over a few months I built up a small collection of my work - not masterpieces, but a collection nevertheless. I put my paintings into a black album. The album would lie around our living room, and I would happen to look at it almost every day. Just having my 'body of work' around and looking at it often, had a deeply profound impact on me. I started seeing a story come to life. I could see my body of work growing. I started believing that am getting better. And suddenly, I didn't want the chain of goodness to break.

(Now I can't 'start' painting... I just do it when I feel like)

Another time, inspired by my own mentor, I began to write a blog. I decided to post my piece every Thursday. I would write using an app called Evernote. I linked my Evernote notebook to a blogging app. Every now and then I would scroll through my notebook and see the icons of each of my blog posts building up and growing. Once again I could see a story emerging. Lo and behold, I had my second 'body of work'.

Coming back to how to get gritty, I believe that answer lies in ‘having a story'. Stories catch our attention. Human brains are hard wired to respond to stories. My kids are 5 and 6. LIke all kids, they just love stories. Their eyes light up as soon as the words 'Once upon a time…' are uttered. My daughter needs there to be a pink princess, and my son needs there to be a construction man and a digger. So most of the times we end up listening to the story of a princess who wanted to build a pink castle and got married to a builder who had a fleet of diggers and a cement factory! Stories spell the death of boredom! Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful protests and non-violent movement are a story that moved a nation. Steve Jobs series of blockbuster products and his product launch videos are a that inspires everyone. The chaiwala who become PM is story. My life is a story. Your life is a story. My 6 year old sons loves lego… everything he creates is a part of his story. Just last month, he made his first 2200 piece lego set. One evening as we sat for dinner, he told me "Papa, I love to stare at my own creation!"


Commentary - now I feel that the story happens to us. We don't have to build a story. It unfolds. We just have to be patient and keep following our heart.


No I'm not going to bore you with the rest of the script. If you feel like you can go watch it on youtube.


Let me just leave you here with this question... what do you feel like? Gritty, or just letting it be? Both are good. But good to know where you are at right now.

In fratitude