I am not a fan of self-help books for a variety of reasons, one of which is that most just take common sense principles and dress them up as a new discovery.
For example, “Want to be thought of as being a responsible person? Show up on time for work, go beyond what is requested, and follow your employer’s instructions. And while we are at it, pay your bills on time, get plenty of sleep, drink 8 glasses of water daily, and don’t abuse alcohol.”
Writers write this pablum, and folks who want to improve their lot in life buy one book after another, filling bookshelves with so-called pearls of wisdom that do not seem to have any practical effect on their lives. In fact, I know one accountant who has an entire room in his home filled with self-help books, and he is today just as weak and wimpy as ever, never applying the information he’s read.
In brief, if self-help books were so effective, we would not have hundreds but maybe a handful.
All of that said, I just finished reading The Grit Factor – Courage, Resilience & Leadership by Shannon Huffman Polson. It is the only self-improvement book that I can recommend, and I say this because it is night and day different from anything else in its category.
What makes The Grit Factor so different from most other “Here’s how to become a more successful person” is because it is an autobiography of how the author overcame adversity to achieve some pretty amazing things, in, as the sub-title tells us, “The most male-dominated organization in the world – the U.S. Army.”
But this is not just a “How I did it?” collection of stories from the author’s life, rather she has assembled poignant examples from some of the remarkable people she met while an officer and Apache helicopter pilot in the United States Army.
Her book takes a practical, experience-based approach, to leveling the playing field in employment and life. I think that it is the ideal read for that recent college grad, or anyone who has not quite found themselves. Even though I am 250 years old, even I found myself answering the questions she has readers ask of themselves. This is quite some read!
Revealing Grit at an Early Age
So, what is grit? Shannon revealed having buckets of it as early as nineteen, becoming the youngest woman ever to climb Mt. McKinley, later on to summit Mt. Rainier and Mt. Kilimanjaro. The qualities of passion, purpose and resilience revealed during these physical–and emotional–tasks would later surface when she was in Bosnia, flying Apache attack helicopters, one the first woman in the Army to do so.
A recurrent theme in the book is the need to have a candid discussion with yourself. Why I say this is an ideal book for that recent college grad or anyone just meandering through life with no fixed goal, comes in part from the challenges she presents to the reader.
Recognizing that in the real world there is often a gulf between what we are doing and what a voice inside of us says we should do, Shannon asks “What is your core purpose?” She then helps us to discover it.
“Purpose comes from your head, but core purpose comes from your heart. Knowing your core purpose will also help you connect with others who either share that purpose or are committed to helping you fulfill yours which is another foundational component of grit.”
To Shannon, grit is a skill that can be taught to help us overcome fear, break through uncertainty and reach our full potential. To help facilitate “growing our grit” she provides several exercises which include, Commit, Learn and Launch,
Commit means being clear on your course–your intended plan–and is deeply connected to understanding your story. This means doing an analysis of your strengths and values which will help to overcome areas of weakness. It is by knowing–and taming–those areas of our personality which have been problematic that we can truly advance.
Learn means having an understanding of the present which encompasses the critical skill of listening. From her own experience in the Army, she makes it clear that listening is perhaps the single most important quality a leader must possess. Additionally, she makes it clear that successful people are not islands; you need a circle of supportive friends and colleagues whom you can go to when things get rough.
Launch means to face fear by being adaptable, and saying to yourself, “I will not quit.”
While arguably intended for a female audience, The Grit Factor is one inspiring read for us all.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.