Last September, the Corvias Alumni Network gathered in Raleigh, NC. In addition to our regularly scheduled networking and think-tanking, we were treated to a delightfully honest presentation called “Gettin’ Gritty with Goal Setting,” by Dr. Jermaine Davis.
With a wide grin and a whirlwind of good vibes, Dr. Davis introduced us to his trademark style of ‘edutainment.’ He asked us what it felt like when we accomplished goals, and he taught us the “good job rap” (Good Job, Good Job. Good Job, Good Job. G – double O – D- J – O – B. Good Job, Good Job). Grit, tenacity, explained Dr. Davis, the ability to work through adversity, that is what helps us reach success, not natural born talent or perfectionism or reinventing the wheel. He pointed out that the line between success and everything else is really fine, photofinish type fine, and that we don’t need to barrel across the line to success, we only need to cross it by a hair.
What I appreciated most about Dr. Davis is that he didn’t tell us to go work our fingers raw, hoping and praying to be noticed and promoted. Instead he gave us real tools, tangible and realistic examples of what we can do to get gritty so we can find success. He began by asking us what was on our plate each week. Each person, he said, no matter who you are or where you from, only has 168 hours in a week. We spend those hours doing things we must and doing things we want. Between sleep, work, and all of our other basic obligations, there’s not a lot of hours left over to do the things that we love. Dr. Davis asked us to think about that: does the way that you spend your weekly hours match up with your core values? Are your priorities in order? Are you neglecting something you ought not to?
We talked about emotion management. Emotions happen, they just do (see: Inside Out), and depending on how you approach those emotions they can be helpful (facilitative) or less helpful (debilitative). Facilitative emotions help propel you, they push you into new things. Debilitative emotions get us stuck, often in our own heads, unable to make decisive action out of fear or shame. Jealousy of a colleague’s work can be used to invigorate your own work, or it can make you bitter and resentful. Bad emotions are not always debilitative, often they are just a response to negative stimuli. Debilitative emotions are notable for their intensity (bitterness) and duration (bitterness over a long period of time). If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of debilitative emotions, Dr. Davis suggests gratitude practices. Gratitude, he says, is the antidote to negative thoughts. While we often try to bury bad thoughts in positive thoughts, what we ought to do is focus on the things that we already have that we are grateful for.
At times in our lives, each of us will experience debilitative emotions. The grittiest of us know how to identify those negative reactions and use that energy instead of succumbing to it. It takes practice to know how to do this, the kind of practice that only comes with having failed enough times to learn to be gritty. Paradoxically, failure is the only way to succeed. When we fail, it’s hard not to take it personally, especially when we’ve tried with everything we’ve got. Even though rationally, we often know that circumstances are out of our hands, judges have their own interests, everything is politics, companies hire based on the dollar not on the best qualifications — even though we know that a setback isn’t our own creation, we can still feel like giving up, especially when we get in our own heads.
But gratitude brings us back down. It takes us out of our anxious headspace and back into the present moment, whatever that is. Usually, the present moment isn’t the worst case scenario we’ve imagined. Gratitude helps remind us of the job that still pays, the friends and family that still love us in their own imperfect ways, of good health and of new opportunities — gratitude reminds us of the simple things that make our foundation. A healthy social network, stressed Dr. Davis, is vital for both gratitude practice and recovering after a setback. Friends and family help us back up — nobody got where they are alone, don’t try to be the first.
There are four types of people, Dr. Davis, explained: Adders, Subtractors, Multipliers, and Dividers. The Adders are your friends and peers, people who push you forward. The Subtractors are your bullies and adversaries, the people who push you backward. Multipliers are your mentors, they push you way up. And the Dividers rip your life apart, tear you to pieces, break your heart. Most of us, those of us in school especially, struggle with Subtractors. They’re everywhere and until you’re really comfortable asserting yourself, their influence can add up quickly. Lord help you if you know you have a Divider in your life; some people, you’ve got to love from a safe distance, but you never stop loving. For me, I realized I was short on Multipliers and my life felt, subsequently, stagnant. Had I skipped this discussion, who knows how long it would have taken me to identify this easily addressed problem.
It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Davis. I hardly encapsulated his speech and I definitely lack his eloquence. I find that wisdom is not something new that I’ve learned, but something old that’s been put in its place. That’s what “Gettin’ Gritty” felt like: lots of things I already knew being arranged in a way that made sense. Perhaps you need that in your life; I encourage you to come to the next of these annual summits. If any of these points resonated with you, please leave a comment and let’s talk.