Quick note: I unearthed this just now. As in April 1, 2018! But I wrote this when my son Miguel was still 7 months old. That’s about 8 months ago! I totally forgot that I wrote this and I was probably in a different place when I did so re-reading it was a little surprising and quite enlightening. I am not sure why I did not hit publish 8 months ago, I must have been overthinking it. In any case, here it is. Re-reading my blog drafts (and I have a lot) is part of my reflection process. Hope it helps someone somewhere too!
Ever since I was young, I have always felt like I was fighting for my life in one way or another. I won’t (yet) go into the details of that super cryptic sentence because that would open up a can of delightful multi-coloured worms. haha Yup, can of worms. But they are delightful and multi-coloured. Get it? I do! And I think like this because looking back, there have been LOTS of blessings in disguise in my life. Like deep, deep, undercover disguise. But blessings nonetheless. So yes I now consider them delightful and oh so colourful.
So for now let’s leave it at that even if I am already a paragraph in and you are probably super curious. Because this entry is not about my telenovela life – though it definitely played a HUGE role in the way I am today. It is about the general principles of grit that I have learned throughout the years of building and running a social enterprise.
Background: Our social enterprise is Rags2Riches, Inc., it is a fashion & design house empowering community artisans. It is nearly 10 years old and have been through 498 near-death experiences (I’m guessing, but it is probably more. haha – that’s painful laughter by the way). We started about 10 years ago with this seemingly straightforward ambition of being a life and livelihood partner for community artisans around the Philippines. Life and Livelihood are BIG words. And in our minds, we knew what those words meant to the business we were building. But what was in our minds were still worlds apart from actually learning with our entire being. We did not just have skin in the game, we had (and still have) internal organs in the game. I’m not even trying to be funny with that last line.
So yes, 10 years and 498 near-death experiences later, here we are today still living. And we will probably go through a few more near-death experiences because that’s how it is when you declare and own an ambition to be a Life and Livelihood partner to artisans while being design-centric, while being sustainable, while maintaining a culture of compassion, AND while trying to be excellent, professional, and profitable. All. At. The. Same. Time.
Businesses are supposed to be quite straightforward. Profit is usually THE measure. And that in itself could be challenging. But NOOOO. It was not challenging enough for us apparently so we thought of adding positive impact too. haha But oh well, we thought it was worth it so we put in the work of what it is worth. And this dream, this whole ambition of creating a fashion & design house empowering community artisans, is worth a lot not just to us but to our artisans from around the Philippines – and maybe even around the world if we do things right and more people could learn from our best practices and cautionary tales.
So grit is not just a nice-to-have. It is essential, crucial even.
If you are my Facebook friend or you follow me on Instagram, you would know (if you are not already overloaded with his pictures) that I have a baby boy. As of this writing he is 7 months old and super active, curious, and growing up really fast. So most of what I write now is for him (Hi Miguel!) and for the challenges he will face in the future which I am super nervous about and have to deal with (my feelings about his challenges, not his challenges necessarily). So these days, I write more about the challenges than the successes because the truth is, the challenges led to the successes and we learn more from the difficult things rather than the easy ones. Grit after all, is born out of fire, not rainbows and butterflies.
So Miguel, and whoever is reading this (especially you, future Reese), here are some of the things I learned about grit and how to be gritty.
1. Choose your battles
This admittedly, I did not get in the beginning. I thought there was such a thing as “having it all”. One of my biggest revelations in life is that there really is no such thing as having it all. Those who say that “you can have it all” either changed their perspective of what “all” means or are just incredibly blessed with all the luck and resources in the world. Good for them!
The truth is, for most of us, there will be sacrifices and compromises. And it is okay to not always get it all together. It is okay to not know, to be confused, and to admit that you are still figuring it out. There is a time and season for every aspect of life. I learned that I have to choose what’s important and fight for it. If it is trivial or just capricious, I have to learn to let it go. And this is really easier said than done and harder to identify than expected. Some things may seem REALLY important but they are actually trivial, capricious, or just one symptom or result of a bigger thing.
I have learned to look for that bigger thing, identify its importance in my life and values (and my why!), and hustle hard for it. I don’t have an actual formula, I really wish I do, but being intentional with where you put your energies to and always asking “why” may eventually lead you to your answer.
2. Work hard not for perfection but for progress
I have heard so many (many many many) times that “you only get one shot, make it perfect/good/awesome”. But I have learned the opposite. You don’t actually get just one shot. You get several shots. Lots and lots of them as long as you seek them out. Even if we make grave, damaging, highly publicised mistakes, do-overs are possible. Hard for sure, but possible. Having grit means that you are able to claw your way out of a seemingly abysmal pit, over and over again until you really make it out. This reminds me of Bruce Wayne’s multiple, painful attempts to get out of the ancient prison pit in the movie The Dark Knight Rises. I was on the edge of my seat during the whole scene, rooting for him as he grasped on to the cracks on the wall, ropes, and bits and pieces of protruding concrete. There are so many things in life that are just like that ancient prison pit. Not as deadly (though sometimes they are), but just as challenging and seemingly insurmountable. And you know what? All those “failed” attempts were not useless at all. One day, you’ll look back at your “failures” and realise that they have built you, your character, and your narrative.
3. Get to know yourself and what holds you back
Competition is not always bad. It could push us to be better, to self-examine, and to see what we missed. But I have an inordinate amount of competitiveness ever since I was young. I’m not necessarily a bad loser externally, but I am internally. How does that look like? Well, it will look like I don’t care about winning anyway or that “I’m happy for you”. But deep inside, I’m already ice-picking away my self-worth, thinking about strategies to win, or making excuses about why I did not win (luck, income disparity, levels of attractiveness, family background, etc. – I’m serious!). This level of intense competitiveness is definitely tamer now. But I had to intentionally tame it especially because it had led me to so many bad decisions. I made some decisions guided by 20% logic and 80% building-my-self-worth-through-winning motivation. Now, I don’t have a guide book for taming this exactly but writing things down and reflecting often about my most disturbing feelings, definitely helped. Some people pray, do counseling, or create art. I see these as versions of reflecting and processing our vulnerabilities.
If we are more aware of the tendencies that make us insecure, less compassionate, and more destructive, that awareness could be a great jump off point to a more intentional life. When we are aware and intentional, we are able to build the conditions within us that enable us to be more gritty and not give up easily.
Grit is not just about blindly charging ahead, it is also about examining ourselves and our shortcomings and moving towards the direction of our dreams and being a better person along the way.