Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

True Grit

March 21, 2023

by chantel oakley

We have all heard motivational quotes around the word “grit.” Growing up as an athlete, I heard the word “grit” ALOT.  I realize now that I misunderstood what it meant to have “grit.” Many of us associate the word “grit” with being super fit, strong, athletic, and a go-getter, especially as it relates to fitness. While the above traits require having an element of grit, I think we are misled to believe that’s what it means to actually have “grit.”

Several years ago, Angela Duckworth a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, authored the book Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance. The inspiration for this book began when, as a math teacher to 7th graders, Angela realized that IQ wasn’t the only factor that separated successful students from those who struggled. And that grit—holding steadfast to a goal through time—was highly predictive of success. To quote her, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint…To be gritty is to resist complacency.” Based on Angela’s definition of what it means to have “grit,” I think we can surmise that ANYONE, regardless of fitness level, athletic ability, resources, or genetic makeup can have grit. And, I think we can also surmise that grit has less to do with our performance and more to do with our desire to grow, the determination to persevere and resist complacency.

Years ago, I associated the concept of grit with persevering in such a way that I ignored my physical, mental, and emotional needs. Feeling tired? Suck it up and push through your workout anyways. Discouraged? Don’t whine, don’t make excuses, keep going. While this extreme “grit only” approach may have gotten some results, it also led to an Adrenal Fatigue diagnosis. Thankfully, as a result of that season, I learned what it really means to have grit- have humility, choose to grow,  and persevere in a gracious way. 

As we shift our lens of what it means to have grit to having what I call True Grit, it changes some of our narrative around fitness. When we attach the concept of True Grit to our value-driven motivation (an overarching motivation that is based on something we deeply value), we begin to journey with a rhythm of both grit AND grace. With this lens, on those days that we are feeling completely exhausted, we change our narrative from “suck it up and push through your workout anyways” to “what’s going on with your body? What do you need? Does pushing through your workout today fully align with your value-driven motivation? Or will it simply exhaust you and trigger shame within you?” What was once a one-dimensional, one-sided way of pursuing health and wellness, now becomes a holistic approach that is sustainable and grace-filled.

Last year I was inspired to gather a group of people to run up the Beartooth Pass with me. I wanted to give individuals an opportunity to push their bodies in a setting that was beautiful, and in a way that was NOT focused on their performance. Instead, I wanted the experience to promote focusing on the effort and journey. I encouraged people to identify what it would mean for them to have grit during this experience (for some people that meant trying to run the whole way up, for others that meant walking the whole way up) and focus on and embrace THAT. The result of this collective mindset shift was a group of people who exercised some humility to identify what it would mean for them to have grit, they displayed vulnerability and courage by embarking on a journey with others who were on different but similar journeys as them, and we all CELEBRATED the process together. In all of my years coaching, it is one of the most inspiring and encouraging things I have ever been a part of (Note: my next True Grit Run is Sunday, May 7th. You can register at

As we contemplate what it means to apply the concept of “grit” to our health and wellness journey, here are a couple of questions to reflect on:

  1. In what areas of my wellness journey am I struggling to have grit?
  2. Have I typically felt like grit is something I do have? Why or why not?
  3. How can I implement a rhythm of grit and grace into my wellness journey to make it more sustainable?

Whether having grit is something you are actively pursuing or something you struggle with, know that, according to Angela Duckworth, “When it comes to how we fare in the marathon of life, effort counts tremendously.” With this in mind, embrace your efforts, remember you are strong and can do hard things and you are not alone in the process. 

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