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Attitude is Everything

Do you ever have one of those weeks where it seems like the universe is banging you over the head with a message?  Lately I seem to be having a lot of conversations about attitude and how it can drastically impact our success or lack thereof.  The universe’s barrage on the importance of attitude culminated this week when a friend of mine shared the following TED talk with me about Grit.

Angela Lee Duckworth and her team studied successful people in a variety of fields and they found that the key indicator of success wasn’t talent or brains or good looks – it was grit.  Determination.  Or, as my dad would say, “Stick-to-it-iveness.” 

As Angela Lee Duckworth defines it, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals.  Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

I’ve feel like we’ve all said, “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint” and “The secret ingredient that separates published authors from unpublished authors? The published authors just kept going.”  These themes seem to be echoed a lot in writing circles – and for good reason.

The grit talk reminded me forcibly of Susan Wigg’s keynote at RWA last week.

In fact, it reminded me of just about every writing keynote I’ve ever seen at a conference.  Every single one of them is trying to teach us the secret to success – be gritty.  Push through.  Persevere. 

When you have a set back in your career, how do you approach it?  With grit and determination to overcome?  Or are you derailed by the obstacle in your path?  Does it become an excuse why you can’t succeed rather than a hurdle to clear on your way to success?

There will be ups and downs in this business, even for the most successful authors, the ones we want to emulate – but what makes them successful in the long run is how they respond to those low points and difficulties.  Do they give up?  Or do they push through?

It never ceases to amaze me how much our attitude of attack can change our results.  If you go into a conference with an open mind, eager to grow and seeking out those little gems in every workshop and interaction, I think it is impossible not to come away with something valuable.  But if you focus on what you aren’t getting, what you aren’t achieving, that negative mindset can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s the same, I think, when you are attacking a new manuscript.  Do you go into it thinking you will fail to execute your vision?  Or do you go into it with the knowledge that you can conquer it, even if it challenges you? Talent can only get you so far.  What you really need is to grit your teeth and push on through.

I am an optimist by nature and I will readily admit that I am baffled by the glass-half-empty approach, but I like to go into each book with the belief that my next book will be my best book.  Admittedly, by the end, I rarely still think this – by then I’m often thinking that my next next book will be my best book – but I have to have that passion and enthusiasm to keep me rolling through the hard parts. The determination to make this book my best book yet.

That isn’t to say it will always be smooth and easy.  Life can get in the way, some books fight us at every plot point, and even if we do make the book the best it can be that’s no guarantee it will sell. But if we are gritty, we will push through that disappointment and it will be come just another entertaining anecdote for our future keynote speeches.

If we are passionate and determined, we will make it to our goals in the long run. But we have to want it badly enough and no one can want it for you. 

I don’t think grit is a fixed feature.  I think if we want to be grittier, we can train ourselves to push through and chase our dreams no matter what.  We can find ways to refill our well of grit just as much as we have to refill our well of creative energy.  For me, conferences are good for that. They refocus me on my goals and where I want to be going –  straight to the lifetime achievement award, baby! – even if I have a long way to go.

What motivates you?  What fires you up and pushes you toward your goals?

How gritty are you?  Do you see grit as a marker for success?  How does determination come to play in your writing process?  Do you want to be grittier?

14 responses to “Attitude is Everything”

  1. Tamara Hogan says:

    Vivi, what an awesome way to start the morning. 🙂 Great video, and such an important message. I’ll look for more of Duckworth on YouTube.

    Underpinning grit, as Duckworth says, is the recognition that difficulty or failure is not a permanent condition, and that this recognition can be learned. YES. I firmly believe that experiencing some difficulty and failure early in life helps one develop resilience, which is the ability to recover, to bounce back more strongly, after something bad happens. I see grit and resilience as synonymous.

    I’ve spoken here at the blog before about being diagnosed with a chronic disease when I was a teenager, about the silver linings that a life with chronic illness can bestow. Developing resilience is among the most valuable of these gifts. I had the opportunity to learn very early on that some things would be more difficult for me, but with effort and perseverance, I could achieve most of my goals. However, with limited energy at my disposal, I learned (often the hard way – teenagers!) how important it was to PACE MYSELF, to be selective about where my energy went…and how important it was to allow myself time for recovery and replenishment.

    I’ve carried this mindset – this practice – into both my adulthood and my writing career.

    –> “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint”

    Riddle me this: If this is the case, why do I see so many writers running perpetual sprints? Why do I see so many authors writing like they’re running out of time? We KNOW why – the economic realities of this business impose some unique financial pressures, to be sure – but…ask a sprinter what happens when they don’t pace themselves, when they don’t allow for recovery time. Fatigue, injury, burnout.

    Sound familiar?

    Friends, if we want to have the grit and stamina to run this creative marathon – and to ENJOY IT – remember, we enjoy this? – we need to pace ourselves, and give ourselves permission to recharge when it’s needed. We need the energy to fight – to WRITE – another day.

    Everyone’s needs are different, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE: Expend your creative energy wisely, so you have the resources, the reserves, to write with passion and perseverance. And yeah, with grit. 🙂

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    • YES yes yes yes yes, Tammy! All of this. For me, sprints are a focus tool – because they fit into my natural work style and fire me up – but there is a lot of impatience attached to the idea of them. Fueled, I think, by the fear that we have to get there NOW or we will never “make it” – and that fear that it will all go up in smoke if we don’t achieve by a certain deadline is, I think, the enemy of grit. Pacing is key. Taking the long view.

      I also cannot say YES, THIS! enough to your reminder to ENJOY IT. I am a fan of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (the NPR quiz show) and last week the guest was the actor Jeffrey Tambor. He talked about acting advice and he said the best advice he ever got was “Adore everything.” Essentially you have to love auditioning and rehearsing and every single take. Life can’t be only about the destination. Adore everything!

      My new motto: Be gritty! Write fearlessly! Adore everything!

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        To clarify, when I mentioned writers running perpetual sprints, I was referring to release cadence – producing multiple books per year – not the awesome focus tool so many writers use to get the words down. 🙂

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  2. jbrayweber says:

    Wonderful post, Vivi. Something I needed to hear. Day in, day out with all the responsibilities of wife/mother/homemaker/freelancer/volunteer/diva causing distractions, I struggle with this marathon. I know it’s a long road ahead, never doubted it. But time to time, negative internal talk sneaks in. I’m not one to back down or give up, but it happens, those questions. So instead of letting them in, I’ll redirect and remember John Wayne, er, I mean, grit is what will get me there.

    Jenn!

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  3. Vivi, Once again you’ve written a post that inspires me and will others. Kudos!

    My family called grit, stubbornness or pig-headedness. I was born with it. My stubbornness shows in my expression on my childhood pictures. When I got knocked-down, something inside me triggered and I got pissed off, got back up and started to figure why it had happened. I’m still that way. I’ll be swinging on my death-bed.
    I tell my children and grandchildren this is the way they need to be in life. Find your passion and work at it every day. Don’t let others tell you you’re wasting your time. It’s your time and your life, enjoy doing what brings you joy and passion.

    Does this mean you stop putting food on the table, paying your bills or ignore your children and become a starving hermit? No. It means you do want you need to do to provide for your family and community and you nurture your children the way you were nurtured, and whatever moments you have extra you work at your passion. You give up things that eat away at your time; ie four hours of TV a night, lunch swiping through social media.

    I could go on but… GREAT POST!

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    • Three cheers for pig-headedness! That is one of my favorite traits. 🙂

      I feel like that stubborn passion is one of the things I most wish I could pass on to friends and loved ones when they need it, but is it possible to teach someone else to have that fire inside them?

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      • I don’t know if you can teach them the fire, but you can inspire them to look inside themselves and find their passion. Sometimes the search for the passion is a long road, but when they do find it my hope the sparks will fly.

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  4. Rita Henuber says:

    Thank you for this. I am working hard to ditch the negative in my life along with the negative thoughts.

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    • That can be easier said than done, but you can do it! I think Tammy hit the nail on the head when she said it’s all about getting to a point of enjoying the journey – as well as driving toward the future – and remembering that set backs are a phase, not a permanent condition.

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  5. What a great post! I have a little slogan taped to my desk: “Never let failure go to waste.” That helps keep me going. Thanks, Vivi.

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    • I love that idea, Bev. I actually saw a video last week called “Chasing Failure” that was all about how you could accomplish more by running at failure than you could by pursuing success. Like by taking the fear of failure out of it, by making that the goal, you take away the things holding you back. It was an interesting concept.

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  6. Darynda Jones says:

    I love this so hard, Vivi! This is my new philosophy and my new goal in life. I tend to live life like it’s a sprint and I’m REALLY trying to change. I’m trying to develop that marathon mindset. My husband has it in spades. I’m jealous of that.

    Thanks for this post. So needed it!

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