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The downside of grit

Posted in the following categories: Decision Making, Motivation

“Out of 500 interviews on my show,” the podcast host said, “you’re the first.”

Raising an eyebrow, I probed, “First what?”

“The first to say that some people need less grit, not more,” he said.

Society has placed grit on a pedestal. It’s the stuff of motivational Instagram posts and movie montages. The motto? Never. Ever. Give. Up.

But quitting? Oh, that’s reserved for the so-called faint-hearted, the ones who couldn’t hack it. “Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” as the age-old wisdom dictates.

Don’t get me wrong: Grit is important. We shouldn’t abandon ship just because the seas got rough. If you give up at the first sign of adversity, you won’t achieve much.

But here’s the twist: Grit can also blind you to other possibilities. Determination is harmful if you’re repeatedly doing what’s not working or walking down the same path even when every signpost along the way screams: Wrong Direction!

A few years back, I found myself in that position. I was a tenured law professor with a lifetime guarantee of a paycheck. Earning tenure had required grit—grinding out countless academic publications and getting stellar teaching evaluations.

And there’s one thing tenured professors don’t do: quit their jobs. But I came to a startling realization. My academic career—one that I once loved—was no longer for me.

Beneath the security of tenure lurked monotony: The repeated academic papers, identical courses, and déjà vu committee meetings. There was no novelty, no growth. My curiosity shifted to writing and speaking to broader audiences, and I couldn’t fully step into who I was becoming without letting go of who I once was.

So, I strayed from convention—and the advice of my colleagues—and decided to experiment with other potential futures. After tasting success as an author and speaker, I finally quit academia.

Just because a younger version of you dreamt a dream doesn’t mean you’re forever tied to it. The 35-year-old you has little in common with the 25-year-old you. If you have any doubts about that, check out your older social-media posts. Once you’re done wincing at those captions and those outfits, ask yourself, Why live by the choices of that person?

And the next time you’re pushing against the tide with grit, pause and reflect.

Are you actually swimming with purpose? Is this the direction you still want to go?

Or are you just stubbornly battling the waves because of old habits, external pressures, or fear of change?

True grit isn’t just about clinging on.

Sometimes, it’s about knowing when to let go and swim towards different waters.

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