Gritty people earn the admiration of others. That admiration is earned through their ability to arrive at their desired destination regardless of the twists, turns, roadblocks, and detours that laid in the path of their journeys. It was a far cry from a straight path to be the person they are today.
My Friend Ronnie
One of the grittiest people I know passed away on Thursday. Ronald (Ronnie) Eugene Thomas retired from our city team in 2021 after twenty years of service. He was responsible for cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash, and keeping the city parks clean. Ronnie was a popular character on the team and within the community. He joined the team a few months before I did in 1999, where we both performed maintenance in the parks.
Ronnie had more thrown at him in a lifetime than ten people combined. He lived paycheck to paycheck, didn’t always make the best decisions with what money he did have, and struggled with unhealthy habits. In the last year of his career, he lost the two most important people in his life, his wife and mother. Despite all of this, he had an infectious laugh, a good soul, and a sincere heart.
As I grew through the organization and he stayed put, I always admired his grit. Grit in the face of everything that life would throw at him. His ability to keep moving forward was admirable.
Like Ronnie, I have watched people I love and care for walk through and/or have heard their stories of the unimaginable circumstances they have faced and come out on the other side. Abuse, addiction, financial ruin, loss of a loved one, divorce, you name it. How did they do it? Plain and simple…they were gritty people.
Here are three consistent characteristics I have seen in all these gritty people and how they can apply to daily leadership:
When I coach, I intentionally share leadership words with the kids that I coach. I like to say that being resilient is, “one’s ability to bounce back…quickly.” Gritty people may get knocked down, but they always work their way back to their feet…as quickly as possible. Sometimes they stumble in the process, battered, and bruised, but rise to fight another day.
As a leader, chaos, crisis, and confusion await us at every turn. Like a punch we didn’t see coming, we find ourselves out of sorts, lying on the mat. Our resiliency is most tested when we are knocked down. We have two choices, to lay there and get counted out, or quickly rise to our feet to continue the fight. Civil rights activist Nelson Mandela once said, “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Leaders have no choice other than to keep getting up, there is no alternative.
Gritty people are resilient.
Courage is another word I love to share with young athletes. I believe courage is, “the ability to face your fears.” The gritty people in our world continually overcome their fears, they do not succumb to them. Fear, if unchecked by courage, can physically and mentally cripple a person. The weight of fear is a burden too heavy to bear. Courage tells us to face that fear and move towards it, not away from it.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the country during uncertain times after the attack of Pearl Harbor, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” One of the greatest challenges to our leadership is fear. Fear leaves us Stuck, staring at the giant that stands in our path forward. Courage tells us to face that giant, overcome the fear, and move towards it. Courage is contagious, it is inspirational. When we courageously move forward towards fear, the people we lead come with us.
Gritty people have courage.
Gritty people don’t have an ounce of quit in them. Despite every reason to quit, they refuse to do so. Poet Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” Too often we pray to be delivered from our circumstances, not through them. Gritty people have always gone through their circumstances, never rescued from them. As hard as the journey may have been, it makes them the absolute gem they are today. Their story can be told today because they were persistent and chose to never stop walking.
The world of leadership is full of burdens, frustrations, discouragement, and distractions. They are unavoidable. The best leaders I know are persistent, they never give up. Gritty leaders are unwilling to veer off course despite what lies ahead. They are not distracted by the sprint, they are determined to get to the finish line of the marathon.
Gritty people are persistent.
About a week ago I received the call that a welfare check had been performed on Ronnie at the extended stay motel he resided at. Apparently, he had been walking through untreated cancer for the last year. I stopped by to see him. An extremely gritty person reduced to tired, weary, and worn. Even in a weakened state, he expressed his grittiness one last time to me. He told me he was “ready to go home,” he was determined to see his wife again.
We should be grateful for our own grittiness and the gritty people that have been placed in our lives. To those gritty people in my life, I am proud of you. Your resilience, courage, and persistence in the face of what you have overcome is nothing short of inspiring. To those I don’t know your story, the same goes for you. Those around you are proud of you and what you have overcome is nothing short of inspiring. Know a gritty person? Let them know the same.