Change and Transformation Takes Grit

In 2017, I was intrigued by an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the lack of mobility in America. It stated that “the country is the least mobile since after World War II, even in economically depressed rural locales.” This is a topic that I have thought about in terms of my own hometown and family often, so it was very interesting to see an article that outlined some of the reasons why some people choose to stay planted. This is something I have personally experienced. I am from a rural town in WV. I couldn’t wait to go away to college (the farther the better) and to begin to chart my own course. I arrived at college halfway across the country (SMU in Dallas, I later transferred to University of Tennessee) …. culturally, socially, economically unprepared. I remember walking into the dorm room thinking it looked like a cinder-block prison cell. I cried. I missed home. I wanted to throw in the towel… but more than that… I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want my family to say “I told you so. You tried to rise above your raising.” So, I persevered. I showed grit.

Grit is a characteristic that I have drawn upon many times throughout my life and while I was originally intrigued by this topic for personal reasons and the correlation to my own journey, I have now come to realize that it applies to business and digital transformations as well.

After graduating college, I moved to Atlanta. I took out a personal loan for $1500 from the local bank and set about my new life. I didn’t have wealthy parents bankrolling me. I took care of the rent and then figured out food and gas with whatever I had left. I was very proud that I figured out how to eat for under $20 for a whole week to make that $1500 stretch. But I still had my days. I vividly remember a rainy, stormy, gray day in February 1994 sitting in a conference room stuffing envelopes at my internship… tears streaming down my face because I was so alone in a big city, worried that I didn’t have what it took, that I should pack up and go home. But again, I didn’t want to fail… I persevered. I think of that day over 20 years ago every time I drive past that office building, and I laugh. In hindsight, I feel like I won a victory over that day’s meltdown. I will never forget that day and those tears.

In business we embark upon large programs and change initiatives and time and again, I have seen companies give up too soon or start to cut back because they don’t immediately see the visible results of the endeavor. Just like committing to mobility in your personal life, a business has to commit to persist through, the often times, messiness that is digital transformation.

Most of my family has remained in the same small town. Economic prospects are limited, but they stay. It truly is unfathomable to many people to set out on their own for the reasons the article stated and more. Family ties, comfort with the familiar, lack of confidence, not seeing a way past the financial hurdles, just liking small town life better… All of those are valid factors to be considered. But if you do decide to be mobile and to follow the opportunities and overcome the obstacles that inevitably will appear, you truly have to have perseverance, grit, tenacity… whatever you want to call it. You have to be able to face down the problems and come up with solutions. Without that, you will continue to gravitate back to the familiar… it’s easier, it’s safer. 

Businesses do this as well… all the time. They know they aren’t performing optimally. They know they are getting further behind their competitors. But it’s easier to just stay on the well-worn course even when your gut is telling you change is necessary.

The reality is not all people nor businesses have the innate characteristics of perseverance, grit, and tenacity. Some people and business cultures seem to have it instinctively, some learn to have more of it over time and some may never get there. But the reality is, rarely is something worth doing, easy or quick. It takes grit to persevere through long-term initiatives and the inevitable hurdles that will appear in your way which you have to overcome. By getting Clear, Ready and AlignedTM on the transformation you need to undertake, whether personal or professional, you will be better prepared to meet those challenges head on and persevere to a better place.

I would love to hear about your experiences leaving the familiar and setting out into unchartered territory. How did you show grit and tenacity to get through the change? What other characteristics do you think are required to be more open to change?

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