How To Raise One Gritty Little Bastard

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Teddy Roosevelt

I’m not really sure of the rules when it comes to baby showers.  In fact, I’m pretty ignorant about the rules that pertain to most ancillary social occasions: engagement parties, bridal showers, I don’t know what the hell to do with myself at a bris. But, a baby shower is certainly towards the top of the list.

I thought, for instance, that guys weren’t really even supposed to be at these things.  That’s why I was confused to be at a table of dudes at my sisters baby shower this past December in Baltimore.

To be fair, it wasn’t a table of just any dudes.  It was the two uncles-to-be (me and my brother), the father to be, Shawn – my sister’s hubby – and Shawn’s dad, the grand-pa to be.  So, pretty esteemed company, I thought, for this little shin dig.  Royalty, as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, it was pretty hard to maintain this regal air by where we were seated. Actually, “seated” might not be the right word – sounds too civil. More like stuck.

And we weren’t even stuck in the party.  We were kept at a safe distance from this oh-so-womanly-and-elegant affair, probably 20 yards outside the room at our own little four-top – our company being luke-warm coffee, the buffet and the hired help. I’m pretty sure Shawn was invited solely to lug out gifts of all variety: toy, mini-apparel , and diaper.

As we sat in our confused seclusion, fumbling for conversation, and questioning why we were there (both shower and earth), I was glad to be distracted (rescued) by a questionnaire for my future nephew, Shay. I guess they had extras.

Less questionnaire and more of a fill-in-the-blank, the little paper had variously-started statements that we were meant to complete as bits of supposed wisdom for our unborn little man. For example, “I hope you love ___” or “I hope you get __.” Given I’m a school nerd, I was excited by the task.

But as I tried to grace this sheet with the buckets of saintly advice accumulated through my illustrious and long life of barely 31 years, my progress slowed. As enthusiastic as I was, I was not moving through this simple Mad Lib at any kind of respectable clip.  I was struggling to think of things to write, yes, but I was also experiencing that familiar struggle for some in the Steinfelder household: to be funny or not to be? That is the question.

I usually try to choose some sort of hybrid.  The impossible combination of perfect humor and wisdom, ahhhhhh. What a brilliant little blogger I am!

Then I got to the incomplete statement of “I hope you become _____.”  I thought about this for a while –  a solid three minutes. A timeframe clearly inappropriate for the situation given most people filled this sheet out in like 60 seconds and we were short of pens. But, I sort of didn’t care.  I was starting to take this seriously as I have been experienced the life-changing effect of just a few choice words (As I recounted here).

I am not sure what I ended up filling in – I think curious, maybe optimistic –  I don’t really recall.  But, I know what I would put now, and only wish I had read Angela Duckworth’s, Grit, a few weeks prior so that I could have written it: “I hope you become playful, kind, and gritty.”

Luckily, it was just a sheet of paper, my handwriting is likely illegible anyway, and my sister likely has lost all of these by now.

Marnz and Shawnzy – Just like baby showers and brises (brisi?), I also have no idea about parenting, but perhaps Angela Duckworth and her research are good places to get ideas.  I’ve described what Grit is and three strategies by which parents can instill it in their long lads and lasses.

…Oh, and, uh, thanks for the VIP seating at the baby shower.  Killer party!


Learned Optimism and Resilience

Psychology is for identifying behaviors and helping the mentally ill. This was the popular view for the first century of its existence.  But then,  a mere 20 years ago, a researcher named Martin Seligman came up with a nutty idea.  What if we used psychology, not just to cure the ill, but to propel all “human functioning and flourishing.” [Marty’s Ted Talk].

In an oft-cited study, Seligman found that if you place people (well, dogs at first) in a situation that is objectively negative – say getting electric shocks at unexpected intervals – most subjects will concede after a while.  They have learned that their actions – whether they fight or not – have no bearing on their future.  They’ve relinquished control due to failure.  In other words, they’ve been infected with a psychological malady: “Learned Helplessness.”

But some people will not do this.  There always remains at least one-third of subjects who will continue to try until they figure it out (or die.).  Their attitude is much like Will Smith’s:

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”

[For more videos like Smith’s -check out the inspiring videos in this article].

Why will they do this? What makes this minority of people continue to persevere even when things look hopeless?  One answer to that question I will elaborate more below as it is one of the three strategies for raising one gritty little bastard.

It is called the Growth Mindset – an evidence-based way of viewing the world that teaches people that effort, perspective and interpretation are the key. They focus on what they can control and view failure as merely a speed bump, rather than a brick wall. (I assume this would not surprise the Stoics).

[Click here for a quick review I wrote on the Growth Mindset].

From Grit:

“ isn’t suffering that leads to hopelessness. It’s suffering you think you can’t control…When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t. Or as Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.’

And Duckworth has found that Grit and Growth-Mindseters, tend to move along the same lines.  But wait – that begs the question – what is Grit?


What Is Grit: Four Elements


This article will concentrate on how we raise gritty children. To do that we will need to know what Grit actually is.  There are four elements: (1) Interest, (2) Practice, (3) Purpose and (4) Hope. 

We’ve seen many of these described elsewhere, but Duckworth, as experts tend to do, provides refreshing distinction and nuance.

(1) Interest

What We’ve Heard:

Interest is simply being attracted to, or excited by, a thing – some activity or skill or venture. We’ve been beaten to death with a notion of “find your passion,” but most people that I know don’t have some default “passion.”  The way Duckworth defines it is much more helpful – much more the way that Tim Ferriss’s question evokes it in the Four-Hour Work Week: Not god-given passion but simply, what interests or excites you?

Duckworth’s Distinctions:

Discovery Sometimes Takes a While. Duckworth examines research on commencement speakers.  It turns out that while most of them advise “following your passion,” it is also true that most of them took a while to find this passion and many ended up there via unexpected paths.

So, while we might envy those who love what they do for a living, we shouldn’t assume that they started from a different place than the rest of us. Chances are, they took quite some time figuring out exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. Commencement speakers may say about their vocation, “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” but, in fact, there was a time earlier in life when they could..

Novelty to Nuance.  When I was 18, my dad bought me a guitar.  I played most days from ages 18 – 21.  But then, after I learned the basics, and it was time to go to the next level (scales), I faded.  I stopped, that is, right at the time that separates novelty from nuance. Think Stuey…”and then you poke your head out the door with a C-chord…

Contrast that with my friend Brian, who learned the guitar 3-4 years after me, but now plays in a legitimate band as the lead guitarist.  He got interested in the nuance.

Novices like novelty.  They take on new interests but then jump when it gets a little hard.  The Gritty, Duckworth tells us, find novelty, not in the next thing – some other instrument or activity – but in the nuance – the scales of the guitar. Not just how to play someone else’s song – but how to make your own.

This nuance doesn’t happen on its own – it usually takes tons of repeated development. What we talkin’ ’bout, Allen?  “We talkin’ ‘bout practice…” The “deliberate” kind…

(2) Practice

What We’ve Already Heard:

Malcom Gladwell popularized “The 10,000 Rule” in his great book, Outliers, [which I wrote about here] while making the argument that talent is not the only ingredient to world-class performance.  In fact, it may have much more to do with the hours and hours of practice these performers had put in.  This brings to mind Michelangelo’s famous quote: “if people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

Duckworth’s Distinction:

Not merely practice; Deliberate Practice. Duckworth focuses on something important about these 10,000 hours – it isn’t just any practice. It is a certain kind of practice – often a very painful kind.

What’s “deliberate practice?” It’s working, with a specific goal in mind, on one aspect of the overall activity – one isolated skill, movement, or repeated step.. You engage in repeated drilling on this one tiny aspect – likely floundering – getting constant feedback, and trying again and again and again for hours per day until you improve.  Then, move onto the next thing. [Note: often Deliberate Practice involves working on an area of weakness, perhaps providing an argument against the work-only-on-your-strengths school of thought].

passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”

So interest starts you and then practice makes you very skillful, growing your interest further.  But Grit is about the long-term, it is about perseverance, and to persevere, it turns out, we need a purpose…

(3) Purpose.


At its core, the idea of purpose is the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.”

We’ve Heard This Before:

You may have seen or heard about the importance of purpose from Simon Sinek (Start With Why) or read about it from Dan Pink (Drive), or Victor Frankl (Man’s Search For Meaning) or (if you’re arrogantly writing this article) from Nietzsche (“he who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how”).  The point is that if you have a reason for doing what you are doing – a reason that is bigger than even yourself – a “why” – then you are much more likely to persevere; to be Gritty.

Duckworth’s Distinction:

Many people think purpose is immediate.  It turns out that for many “Grit Paragons” the purpose did not surface until well into their chosen path. At first, their path was just plain cool. Only after a 3-step process do they turn that interest into Dr. Atul Gawande’s motto: “work on cool stuff that lasts (and helps people).”  Duckworth discusses three-step process she found in the research:

  1. Discovery. This is usually discovered via a personal problem or exposure to someone else’s.
  2. Role Model. A person who is doing something for a larger purpose and connecting that with an immense benefit.
  3. Revelation. This happens when you realize that you can actually make an impact.

(4) Hope.


Fall seven, rise eight.”

You can wish in one hand and crap in the other, and see which one fills up first, ehhh.” Grumpier Old Men

We’ve Heard It

Duckworth discusses hope as being important not sequentially, but all along. We’ve heard about the importance of hope from MLK and Hellen Keller, and our teachers and parents. But what is hope?  It is not mere wishing.  Hope “rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future.” But are we born with this optimistic bent, or can it be learned?

Duckworth Distinctions.

  • Interpretation, Not Fortune. Hope does not depend on avoidance of bad things.  It depends on a sort of self-talk – what psychologists call reappraisal – that explains away and makes temporary and fixable bad things, rather than making them large and inescapable.  It has to do with how you perceive events, not the fact that they occurred.
  • Learned Optimism. This happens in three ways: (1) understanding that the key isn’t fortune or talent, it is purposeful effort, (2) positive self-talk and reappraisal (“Oh well, slight speed bump let’s keep working to find an answer”) and (3) getting help – someone to push you when you can’t see the light.

Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. ‘I have a feeling tomorrow will be better’ is different from ‘I resolve to make tomorrow better.’ The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”




Ok, now that you get what Grit is – can you see how important these ideas would be to embed in a child?  For me they are pretty god damn croosh (crucial – keep up).

So how do we get it?  How do we become Gritty, especially while we are young?

Some kids learn it by way of unfortunate circumstances where there are forced to build resilience. Some seem to come to it by luck.  But,  Duckworth’s research seems to show that it can largely be a learned skill.  And it seems that parents can do a good deal to help.

This is what Duckworth finds to be a good formula for increasing your child’s Grittiness…

How To Raise One Gritty Bastard


One of the major discoveries of parenting research is that what matters more than the messages parents aim to deliver are the messages their children receive.

(1) “Wise” Parenting: Warm Support, Respect, High Standards


Hall of Fame Quarterback, Steve Young’s parents were “tough.”  Famous British comedian, Francesca Martinez’s parents were lovey-dovey. The key insight from Duckworth is that no matter what the typical outer appearance of the parent is –  as long as they balance it out with support, respect, and a high standard for character –  it all works.

According to Duckworth, the research regarding the best possible parenting style is pretty conclusive.  There are three main styles and one seems to beat the hell out of the others. It’s called the “Authoritative” style, which Duckworth calls Wise Parenting.

The two runners up are: The Authoritarian Style (note the confusingly similar name to Authoritative) and The Permissive Style. The former consists of strictness, toughness, lack of tolerance, one-way respect rule, and making decisions for your kids.  The latter is the opposite – allowing so much leeway as to be indifferent of what they do.  This parent is never home, never interested, never really even supportive.

The best style is one where you support your child, put their interests first (which sometimes means telling them what is best and sometimes means allowing them to choose), respecting their privacy, decisions, and independence, and setting high standards for them (including urging them to honor commitments they have made and not letting them quit so easily).  As long as these components are included, you can be tough and conservative or liberal and lovey-dovey – it don’t seem to matter a lick.

(2) The Dweck Effect


All that Learned Optimism v. Learned Helplessness stuff begs a question: what determined whether you were going to be in the 1/3 v. 2/3.  What predisposed you to trending optimistic or helpless? This is the question that Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, has spent a lifetime researching.  And the results of her research have revolutionized the way many look at teaching, learning and coaching – certainly they way I look at them.

[For a quick primer on Dweck’s book on the subject, here’s my little post]

Dweck’s research deals with two main mindsets: the Growth Mindset and the Fixed Mindset.  Growth-Mindset individuals tend to think that learning and IQ are things that move according to effort and learning.  Fixed-Mindseters feel talent, knowledge, ability are all more or less fixed.  Not surprising. But, what is surprising is that this causes radically different outcomes in performance.

What Dweck found is when you are Growth-Minded, you tend to not just try harder, but are also much more resilient to “failure.” In fact, you perceive failure more like learning, and you are energized to dive back in and try again. Whereas, if you are Fixed, you will avoid failure at all costs because you see it as an indictment of your person and a threat to your stature (the unblemished appearance of which you treasure).

So how do we parent for this? How do we grow our kids mindset and make them resilient to failure and make them enthusiastic about learning, growing and effort? Three ideas from Dweck:

(i) Praise your kids for effort (not talent). Instead of them being ‘the most talented little mathematician in the world! Oh, yes you are…yes you areeeeee!!!!!!’ Say to them: “nice work on that math test, you must have studied and practiced really hard.” Or “to bad on that math test, let’s figure out how we can work harder next time to do better.”

(ii) Refer To Failure As Learning. Ray Dalio, the founder of the largest hedge fund in the world, has written in his book, Principles: “the key to success lies in knowing how to both strive for a lot and fail well.”.  Get your kid to see the opportunity in failure and discuss with them ways they can improve next time. [e.g. “You didn’t do as well as you wanted to – what a great opportunity to improve!”].

(iii) Expose Them To Possibility. Show them heroes who put in great effort to get where they wanted to.  Expose the talent myth.

(3) The Hard Things Rule: Extra Curriculars


Duckworth discusses compelling research that shows that Grit can be, and should be, grown via activities other than school work. These tend to fit the mold of “extra curricular” activities.  True to the Grit paradigm, you should not force any one activity on your child, but present to them endless options: cooking, ballet, baseball, instrument, singing, Boy Scouts, jousting, glass-blowing, whatever.

There are two keys (and one bonus):

  • Key#1. They choose it because they are, or might be, interested
  • Key#2. Once they commit, they stick to it for at least one year
  • Bonus: They advance in a meaningful way. (I.e. From bench to starting, from low level to captain, from follower to leader, from watcher to doer.)

Duckworth has a rule with her kids called “The Hard Thing” rule.  The rule has three components very similar to the above: (i) “everyone—including Mom and Dad—has to do a hard thing.”, (ii) “You can quit. But you can’t quit until the season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other “natural” stopping point has arrived.”  (iii) “And, finally, the Hard Thing Rule states that you get to pick your hard thing.”

So that’s it – you do these things and presto – your kid will be one gritty little bastard. Let’s summarize this thing cause I know you just skimmed that thing and I don’t want your kid to grow up to be some punk, biatch.

To Sum Up…

What is Grit? 

  1. Interest. Start with anything. Many things. Expose yourself (not like that -gross).
  2. Practice. Deliberate. One skill at a time, fail, feedback, try, succeed, move on.
  3. Purpose. Bigger than yourself – often revealed well into your practice days.
  4. Hope. Understand reality but maintain resilience via effort, action, and perspective in the face of adversity. 

How do we raise Gritty little bastards?

  1. Wise Parenting. Warm, supportive, respectful, high standards.
  2. Growth Mindset. Praise effort over talent, celebrate failure opportunity, worship effortful heroes.
  3. Stick to Hard Things. Discover, decide, stick to it, try hard, have fun.


And remember – at the beginning – let your kid explore.  As Duckworth says:

“At the start of an endeavor, we need encouragement and freedom to figure out what we enjoy. We need small wins. We need applause. Yes, we can handle a tincture of criticism and corrective feedback. Yes, we need to practice. But not too much and not too soon. Rush a beginner and you’ll bludgeon their budding interest. It’s very, very hard to get that back once you do.”

Marnz and Shawnzy – please read this to my boy, Shay.  Make that kid into one gritty-ass, bastard!








3 Comments on “How To Raise One Gritty Little Bastard”

  1. I just printed the entire thing out and framed it on Shay’s wall. Great Read Pust! Thanks for the shout out and keep the parenting advice coming! Love you.

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