I spent a bulk of my weekend in internal struggle over whether I should let my five-year-old quit gymnastics because she’s petrified of the high bar.
Then I read this week’s installment from Kay Wyma, and, well…let’s just say the five-year-old is going to gymnastics come hell or high water.
I’ll let Kay take it from here.
By Kay Wyma
“Hey… Mom. Did you see that guy? … The one that jumped?” asked my teen from the back seat since a sister had swiped his regular shotgun perch.
I searched my mind for any recent jumping news and silently prayed that he wasn’t referring to a tragedy. “Are you talking about Felix Baumgartner?”
“Yeah – him. Did you see him? … He was standing at the edge of the world.”
The kid was right. A week ago Sunday, Felix stood at the edge of the world. Not only did he stand; he let go, stepped off… and jumped from the stratosphere. Free-falling from a height that no man has ever seen sans spacecraft, he traveled faster than the speed of sound before releasing his chute.
I have vertigo just looking!
“You know he broke the sound barrier,” the kid informed the rest of the passengers. I added, “over 800 miles per hour.”
Seriously? How did he will his hands to let go?!
Amid the “oohs,” I had to add, “As crazy as it is, exactly 65 years ago to the day, Chuck Yeager was the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound. He did it in a juiced-up airplane. Just like Felix’s jump, though, no one had ever done anything like it. In fact, no one was sure either man could survive their feats. And still, they did it.”
There are so many amazing things about Felix’s and Chuck’s accomplishments, the most intriguing of which titled a movie, The Right Stuff. Today people call it “grit.” There’s a TED talk about it (Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD). The New York Times wrote about it (“What if the Secret to Success if Failure“). Apparently, it outweighs IQ as an indicator of life success.
Grit = Perseverance.
What goes into grit? Performance character which includes moral character (ethical values like fairness, generosity, and integrity) but adds strengths like zest, optimism, social intelligence, and curiosity. Felix Bumgartner and Chuck Yeager sure have it. And it starts young. Grit isn’t based on education, sociology-economic standing, or genetics. Some might be pre-disposed to it. But, all of us have access to it.
Consider Yeager. According to his website, he had humble beginnings. He grew up in a small, rural town far from big city luxuries and powerhouse learning institutions.
“Chuck was always a curious kid. When he wasn’t climbing trees or exploring in the woods, he could often be found by Grandpa Yeager’s side watching, listening, and learning how to become a skillful hunter and fisherman… He was an average student throughout most of his school career. Hunting and fishing interested him far more than most of his studies. Still, Chuck excelled at anything that required mathematical ability, physical coordination, or manual dexterity. These traits would serve him well many times in years to come. Chuck credits his father for another trait he displayed early on — an affinity for machines and a knack for understanding them. Albert Hal Yeager owned a natural gas drilling business and young Chuck found all the generators, pumps, and pressure regulators fascinating. He was eager to learn everything about them, wanted to know how they worked and why… At a very early age, he was helping his Dad repair them, and troubleshooting the complicated systems.”
Is anyone encouraging a kid to get his hands dirty on generators, pumps, and pressure regulators these days? Gone are shop classes from Jr. High. Gone are the days you can peek behind the counter at your neighborhood gas station/garage and see a kid with greasy hands (see also: prohibitive insurance regulations against hiring someone below the age of 18.) Welcome the days of over protection and bubble wrapping.
Chuck went on to use that inquisitive, hard-working spirit to become an Ace pilot in the Air Force on the cutting edge of experimental flight. He ushered in our nation’s space program, yet never wore the title astronaut. He is a humble man of character whose curiosity and drive never seemed to be satiated. Rarely did a set-back get him down; he always got back up to reach even further. In fact, he flew his sound barrier flight with freshly broken ribs, using a broom stick handle to close the plane’s door since he couldn’t move his arm. Crazy!
Apparently grit doesn’t stop. The same day Baumgartner broke the sound barrier in his free-fall to earth, an 89 (89!!)-year-old Chuck Yeager “flew in the back seat Sunday of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California’s Mojave Desert — the same area where he first achieved the feat in 1947 while flying an experimental rocket plane.”
With the kids still talking about Felix, I looked at my crew in the car. What jazzes them like speed jazzes these gritty guys? Where am I letting them gravitate toward instead of protecting them from boundaries? Where am I encouraging them to try new things and letting them fail so they can get back up and try again? How am I ingraining in them a thirst for grit and all that goes into it?
Here’s a shout-out to Felix Baumgartner and Chuck Yeager — a couple of gritty guys who are making a difference. May they inspire this mom and open her eyes to and lean into grit-producing opportunities.
Kay Wyma is the author of Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. She shares the hilarity and the tears that come with raising adolescents & teens on her blog The Moat … because who wants to walk that road alone.
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