The other day I was mindlessly scrolling and came across a video of a baby bear and its momma climbing up a dangerously steep snowy mountainside. Momma made it up, no problem. The baby, however, kept falling. No matter how often it tried, it would lose its footing and fall back. And just when you get excited thinking the baby is going to crest that hill and run off with momma, it falls nearly to its death.
I was shocked, heartbroken, and began to cry. And just as you think there is no hope, the baby instantly reaches out and grabs onto a bare rock. Then it starts to climb and climb and climb. Momma is standing at the edge, watching, pacing back and forth. Suddenly, you began to see the rise of grit and determination in this tiny being. The desire to live is a powerful one, particularly after you meet death face to face. Without hesitation this time, the baby climbed to the top and followed momma off into the woods. It never quit trying.
The feeling and the meaning behind that video will never leave me. The general definition of grit is “courage and resolve, the desire to persevere.” Grit is our spiritual toughness, and it doesn’t live close to the surface of our skin. Instead, it resides deep in our solar plexus, near the heart, and it drives us forward when we all but give up. We all have it, every one of us. And when the soul calls out, we can either listen to it or not.
When I trail run up a hilly, rocky, and often rooted pathway, it is not my strong legs or cardiovascular fitness that gets me to the finish line. It is my soul that gets me there. Runners understand this. Ask Navy Seal and ultra runner David Goggins. We are, to say the least, a strange bunch. No matter how difficult, my need to finish does not come from thoughts in my head. It is a feeling that lies deep within my chest. It’s a feeling, not an opinion. While my brain is usually saying, “Wtf? Stop. Why are you doing this?” My soul says, “I gotta do this.”
When faced with stark or difficult circumstances, the urge to give up or quit easily comes to us. Our thinking mind is saying, “You’ll never make it. It’s too hard, why bother? What’s the point,” and it is easy enough to listen to. It takes no effort to quit. It’s easy. But if we do, what are we left with, disappointment, discouragement, and an unmet desire to achieve that which our heart wants? We cannot listen to our minds. We must listen to our soul.
The road of perseverance is paved with a deep urge to push through even when we’re tired or wallowing in self-doubt. It pushes us past endless challenges that drain our energy, past the suffering, fear, and hardships that threaten to derail us. But once we get across the finish line, or get our diploma, or take the leap and start our own business, whatever it is we want to achieve, we realize it’s not the result that matters anyway; its that we know we can count on the strength of our soul to get us where we want to go.
And, like everything else, it takes practice. And the way we practice is by doing hard things and realizing that fear is not an option. No matter how small your challenge may seem to others, for you it can be monumental. We each have our paths. One person’s path is not better or worse, just different.
How do we know if we are listening to our soul or mind? Simple. You think with the mind. You feel with the soul. The brain is rational. The soul is not. The mind is usually what is leading our lives. The soul is not. The mind keeps us safe. The soul feeds our faith in ourselves. The soul is something “extra” we can call on when our rational mind fails us. The mind sometimes needs help figuring out what to do. The soul always knows what to do.
Learned helplessness is a term we use in Psychology to describe a condition in which a person has a sense of powerlessness arising from trauma or a consistent failure to succeed. The inability to find a resolution in difficult situations can lead to increased feelings of stress and depression. If people think they cannot control a problem, they frequently do not even try. It’s easier to give up even when opportunities to change become available.
A few years ago, the doctor told my brother that he would never walk again after his horrific motorcycle accident. He could’ve agreed with the man and lived out his days in a wheelchair. But there was something inside him that he felt, and it kept saying, “Get up. Get up.” That was his soul speaking to him, and he listened. He now walks with a minor limp, and the doctors are amazed. He did not hear the words, “You’ll never walk again. Your paralyzed. People don’t walk after things like this.”
But so many of us don’t do the hard things because we are afraid. We don’t do what we want to do. We don’t take risks or challenge ourselves because what if we fail? What would others think? Would we ever recover? Instead, we learn to live in complacency and call it satisfaction. There is a huge difference between living and existing. Existing means we follow the thinking path. And when shit gets hard, we usually quit. Living means we follow our desires, and when shit gets hard, we reach deep and call on the extra to help us.
The hard road is the road less traveled. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t always feel great. It can be winding, slick, riddled with potholes, and there can be many detours. That’s okay. It’s how it should be. It’s the road we pave for ourselves and others who follow. It is on that road that we call on our grit to become stronger and wiser through the challenges we face. It reminds me of Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.