(Context note: This post was written several years prior to the start of the pandemic.)
“They aren’t ‘fragile’ — they’re brittle!“ I exclaim aloud.
I’m reading through survey responses from junior high and high school students in preparation for a chapel talk Kathi and I will be giving based on our book Overwhelmed.
Student after student lists the sky-high expectations they face day in and day out — all the pressures they place on themselves, plus the myriad placed on them by authority figures.
They’re trying so hard.
Some, according to their schedules, are practically killing themselves.
And so many clearly have no idea how to “fail forward”— how to metabolize their mistakes in healthy ways, let alone how to be emotionally stable in the midst of failure.
Lacking key resilience skills and strategies, they practice less self-care and push themselves more.
Just. Like. Me.
I was a textbook perfectionist growing up, believing that mistakes were the worst thing in the world. That failure was so shameful, we couldn’t even speak of it in our home. Instead of growing grit, I developed an eating disorder.
The more gut-honest responses I read, the more I conclude:
These aren’t “snowflakes.”
These are maturing human beings, doing the very best they can with the tools they’ve got.
Just. Like. Me.
As Strong as Steel?
That evening, I tell my 25-year-old son about the students’ survey responses and my working theory about them:
“They aren’t fragile — they’re brittle.”
He nods and chimes in:
“Sounds as if they’re like steel.”
I raise an eyebrow.
Jonathon explains that during the refinement process, individual molecules of steel become incredibly strong.
But when there’s too much heat and too much pressure, the bonds that hold the molecules together weaken.
Causing the steel to shatter.
Not because the individual molecules are fragile but because the bonds between them are weak.
“So … too much heat and too much pressure leads to disconnection and isolation.”
Jonathon nods, and I ponder.
Too much heat.
Too much pressure.
No wonder we shatter so easily.
“The Glue that Binds Us”
A few days later, I’m reading Donald Miller’s book Scary Close when a few sentences leap off the page at me:
“We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”
And suddenly, it all makes sense:
Perfectionism is grace rejection.
We all lack some of the skills, strategies, support, and even syntax for processing the inevitable failures that are part of developing resilience.
But there’s good news!
You don’t need to try harder to grow your grit by yourself.
The more you connect with people who understand that “grace only sticks to our imperfections,” the more resilient you will become.
Your grit will grow as you reject perfectionism and embrace grace.
Because grace begets grit.
Do you feel like your sensitivity helps you or hinders you in growing your grit*?
( * Dr. Angela Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term and meaningful goals.”)