A Sweet Profile of Grit

Milton Hershey's sweet dream

If you are a fan of Westerns, as I am, you know that candy was an extra special treat in those days and was stored in bulk at the General Store. There were barrels or glass jars of lemon drops, candy ginger, peppermint, and candy canes. Chocolate was noticeably absent. Fast forward to today. The National Confectioner's Association reports that 80 percent of Americans giving gifts to their sweetheart on Valentine's Day gave chocolate or other candy. And for those who don't have a sweetheart, 43 percent buy a box of chocolate for themselves!

The grit of one man in particular is responsible for this dramatic shift in our tastes and the packaging, popularity, and availability of chocolate. That man was Milton Hershey and you can read his story here. Born to Mennonite parents in 1857, Milton overcame a turbulent childhood that included watching his father fail time and again at various business enterprises and culminating in the separation of his parents. By age 30, he himself failed twice with unsuccessful candy businesses.

But unlike his father, Milton learned from his failures, failing forward to found the very successful Lancaster Caramel Factory. In 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, he gravitated to a chocolate exhibit that eventually inspired him to devote himself to making chocolate a candy for the masses. His vision led him to establish a Utopian company town, Hershey, PA, and an enterprise that changed the way we think about and consume candy. It took an abundance of grit for Milton to develop the manufacturing processes required, not to mention lead the transition from the General Store’s barrel of lemon drops to a single-serve packaged chocolate bar.

I, for one, am especially grateful for Milton Hershey's sweet dream of chocolate for the masses and his perseverance in stimulating demand while simultaneously perfecting his manufacturing processes in the face of many challenges.

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Grit Can Be A Family Affair

Want to improve your family's grit?

Recently, I’ve been studying Moses, the Old Testament leader and deliverer of Israel, and his development into a leader with true grit. I’ve been struck by the abundance of grit in Moses’ mother and father and sister that apparently was passed on to Moses (you can read about it here).

This in turn sparked my interest in the way that families play a role in passing along grit to their children. In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth writes extensively on parenting for grit. She describes a rule in her family called the Hard Thing Rule, which has three parts. For the first part, each family member, including Angela and her husband, must do a hard thing. For Angela, her hard things are psychological research and practicing yoga. For her oldest daughter, it’s playing the piano. The second part of the Hard Thing Rule is that you cannot quit until the season or the interval to which you’ve committed is over. And you definitely can’t quit on a bad day. The last part of the Rule is that each family member picks their own hard thing. Duckworth says, “For parents who would like to encourage grit without obliterating their children’s capacity to choose their own path, I recommend the Hard Thing Rule."

Whether or not you choose to adapt this rule to your family, its principles can help each of us improve our own grittiness and those we influence.

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My Extraordinary Cup of Coffee

Coffee Farmers with True Grit

My inspiration for this week’s Grit Chronicles comes from the cup of coffee I’m enjoying this morning. The beans are from a region in Mexico named Oaxaca and are produced by multiple coffee growers from a single village. These beans arrived as a part of my Tinker Coffee Subscription this month and the description of the beans and some history of the region provided by the Tinker Coffee Team caught my attention.

This region is populated by dedicated coffee farmers with small holdings who demonstrated grit to bring their high-quality beans to market. Roya, a fungus that causes coffee leaf rust, decimated their 2015 coffee harvest. This natural disaster came on top of these farmers’ struggles to gain access to quality-focused markets.

Not surprisingly, many village cooperatives dissolved after the Roya outbreak. But those farmers with grit used this misfortune to plant more resistant varieties and improve their farming techniques to attain even higher levels of quality and production. This positioned them to connect with Sustainable Harvest to create the La Lucha (roughly translated as The Fight) initiative. La Lucha is a connector of high-quality, entrepreneurial coffee producers with specialty markets around the world. And while Oaxaca was ground zero for this initiative, since then, it has expanded across the globe.

Here's what makes this morning’s coffee extraordinary. It originates from the coffee farmers in Oaxaca who are passionate about growing high-quality coffee for consumers who appreciate the fruit of their labor. This passion, coupled with the perseverance to keep going when other farmers gave up, produced the beans that I ground this morning for a coffee experience that is all the more rich, knowing the grit that it took to grow, harvest, and deliver these beans to me.

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Everybody Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth

Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." This response was to a reporter's question regarding whether he was worried about Evander Holyfield's fight plan.

Years later, another reporter asked Tyson to elaborate on his then famous quote. The reporter commented: "What I like so much about the quote is that its application stretches far beyond boxing. It really has meaning in any area of life, whether the blow comes from a health issue, losing your job, making a bad investment, a traffic jam, whatever. It's how you react to that adversity that defines you, not the adversity itself."

Tyson responded: "Exactly – if you’re good and your plan is working,  somewhere during the duration of that, the outcome of that event you're involved in, you're going to get the wrath, the bad end of the stick. Let's see how you deal with it. Normally people don’t deal with it that well."

Tyson's reputation included a ferocious and intimidating boxing style combined with controversial behavior inside and outside the ring. He reigned as the undisputed world heavyweight champion and holds the record as the youngest boxer to win a heavyweight title. Tyson was one of a very few men in boxing history to regain a heavyweight championship after losing it. In addition to his contentious boxing career, Tyson persevered through bankruptcy, incarceration, and family tragedy. Most recently, he founded the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation to give kids a fighting chance by providing innovative centers that provide for the comprehensive needs of kids from broken homes.

Frankly, there are chapters of Tyson's story that are unsavory. But, I do admire his grit which enabled him to keep going, overcoming one adversity (mostly self-inflicted) after another. And his famous quote is a reminder that it's not about your plans as much as what you do after you get punched in the mouth.

Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday, we collectively celebrated Martin Luther King Day, marking the birthday of this great leader. As I reflected on Dr. King's grittiness that enabled his achievements, I’m inspired by his abundance of passion and perseverance – the core character traits of grit. Dr. King pressed on in the face of certain failure, and he died without realizing the dreams that he so eloquently spoke of, yet he himself was not a failure, but rather, a national hero.

I’m drawn to this description of Dr. King’s grit.

But what makes a prophet is not success. It is the person whose feet move in the morning towards an ideal despite knowing that it can never be attained and that its pursuit leads to a cross. The power, the triumph is that those blessed feet still moved. (From Religion at the Margins)

What was it that enabled Dr. King to press on? I believe it was his deeply rooted passion for his cause. It was his passion that reinforced his perseverance. It was as though his passion was like carbon fiber that impregnates another material to form a composite of amazing strength and resilience.

This week, as we memorialize Dr. King, take a few moments to ponder his character – and, in particular, his grit – and the role that it played in his achievements. Then, I encourage you to consider a worthy goal of your own where Dr. King’s kind of grit may be required for success.

A Gritty Tribute to George Herbert Walker Bush

No matter your political leanings, one thing we can all agree on is this: George H.W. Bush was one of our grittiest presidents. With the news of his passing this past week, we have been reminded of his acts of heroism and contributions in service to our nation.

On his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the US Navy. By the time he was 20, he already had 58 combat missions under his belt, survived the terror of kamikaze attacks on his ship, and was shot down in an air attack on a Japanese radio station. Here is the citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross that he earned as a pilot during World War II.

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For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as Pilot of a Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Squadron FIFTY ONE, attached to the U.S.S. San Jacinto, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of the Bonin Islands, on September 2, 1944.

Leading one section of a four-plane division in a strike against a radio station, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Bush pressed home an attack in the face of intense antiaircraft fire. Although his plane was hit and set afire at the beginning of his dive, he continued his plunge toward the target and succeeded in scoring damaging bomb hits before bailing out of the craft.

His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Reserve.

Grit Case Study: My Pretty Little Pretzel

Kate Wilson, founder of My Pretty Little Pretzel, is more than just a sponsor of IndyGrit.Community. As she and I were preparing for our December 6th event, I asked Kate more about her own journey and the importance of grit.

Kate shared with me, in her experience, grit was as much a philosophy as it was a first response to life's ups and downs. And Kate has experienced some major ups and downs, including a 15 week stretch when she experienced extreme chronic pain and could barely move.

Kate said that you won't find the word grit in the concordance of your bible, but the character traits of passion and perseverance that compose grit are definitely biblical virtues that she learned during this period. In conclusion, she says that My Pretty Little Pretzel is less about chocolate and pretzels and more about loving people and brightening their day with a sweet treat.

I would add, however, that her chocolate is very, very good -- which is how she has developed such a loyal following among her corporate and private clients. 

Kate Wilson and the My Pretty Little Pretzel team

Kate Wilson and the My Pretty Little Pretzel team

Indy Grit Recommended Reading | Educated: A Memoir

One of the ways I enjoy improving my own grittiness is reading about the lives of those who have truly demonstrated amazing grit. One such story is that of Tara Westover. Tara was born at home and brought up in an isolated mountainous region of Idaho, well off the grid. Her parents were survivalists -- suspicious of the government.

They deliberately kept her out of school and off any birth or hospital records. It was as though she didn’t officially exist. Her mother taught her to read and she could add and subtract. With these basic skills, she determined to leave her family and go to college. Her amazing story of grit includes teaching herself the high school subjects required to score at the required level to be accepted to Brigham Young University.

And that is just the beginning of her story of resilience and determination.

Educated: A Memoir   is available from your favorite bookseller in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and Audible. I encourage you to add it to your grit reading list. Also, take a closer look at the cover – there is more to the graphic than what is seen with a casual glance.

Educated: A Memoir is available from your favorite bookseller in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and Audible. I encourage you to add it to your grit reading list. Also, take a closer look at the cover – there is more to the graphic than what is seen with a casual glance.

Grit Goes Mainstream

It took me by surprise when I saw the cover of this month’s Costco Connection, the publication for Costco members. Sure enough, it was Angela Duckworth with an article on her research of grit. Angela is an amazing grit evangelist and to be commended for spreading the word to Costco members.

The truth is that grit has proven to be a more accurate predictor of success than talent in every domain in which it has been tested, whether it be the board room, the entrepreneur’s garage, the classroom, or professional sports.

That said, the IndyGrit.Community is for anyone who desires to become more gritty.

Angela Duckworth

What is Indy Grit Community?

Some of you have asked what Indy Grit Community is all about. First and foremost, we are about “un-networking”. At traditional networking events, the tendency is for everyone to share how great and successful you and your business are. This breeds competition and leaves you wondering: “Am I the only one struggling?” At the Indy Grit Community, we know that the journey is fraught with struggles, failures, and challenges. And that it takes grit to keep going to overcome the challenges we each face.

Our speakers will be transparent about their own struggles and will facilitate group discussion to encourage one another and improve our grittiness. And when we come together and share our vulnerability and learn from our failures, we create community – the Indy Grit Community.

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