Grit has become a hot topic in education, but in my opinion, kids facing serious or chronic illness are some of the “grittiest” people around. Grit includes many different things—courage, resolve, strength of character, mettle, backbone, fortitude, perseverance, tenacity, spirit—and yes, sick kids have it.
Grit can help kids get through arduous health journeys. Grit can help them get through difficult, even seemingly overwhelming, physical and emotional challenges. Kids with grit rise above challenge. Grittiness can keep young people facing long-term health challenges emotionally strong—even when faced with setbacks or chronic conditions.
Angela Duckworth, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, discusses the importance of having “a growth versus a fixed mindset” in her Ted talk on grit. With a growth mindset, the process and the experience are more important than the ultimate goal: a mindset that sick kids gain when they realize life is about being who they are, not necessarily what they do or who they will become.
I met Moi, a high school girl diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, whose treatment included the most intense kind of chemotherapy. She is one gritty kid. Her diagnosis at age 17 forced her to get gritty and embrace her illness. If you want to be inspired, watch this incredibly moving speech she gave to her high school classmates upon re-entering school after a challenging summer of treatment.
Young people with illness are covered in grit, which actually can be a very good thing. Introspection and writing work together to help gritty kids tell their story. Through writing, young people can document their emotional journey. Resilience, or emotional endurance as we call it, comes from recognizing one’s internal strength—“character” as it has traditionally been called. By helping young people reach in, journaling gives young people a tool to better understand their feelings and needs, so they can reach out and communicate those needs to others who are there to help. It empowers them even in the most adverse circumstances.
Moi’s grit didn’t muddy her—it made her shine. She made the choice to put on the grit, and her life will be forever changed by it, as will the lives of everyone she is close to.