Grit and Glory: The Battle of Intelligence vs. Grit

Grit and Glory: Hello. I am a survivor.

I absolutely love TED talks. These days it seems I hardly go a day without listening to at least one or two. And each time, I am inspired and reinvigorated to dig a little deeper and push a little farther than I had previously thought I had it in me to do that day.

I find hope, reassurance and energy in every talk. It’s the kind of stuff I truly believe we could all use more of on the daily; real, eye-opening, often sensitive, and perspective-filled content that helps us to live better, to be more open and to experience life, if only for a few minutes, through the words and circumstances of others so that we can learn to be a better version of ourselves.

And, although I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a TED talk, the one I came across today has to be one of my absolute favorites. Go ahead. Trust me. It’s more than worth the six or so minutes.

Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit.

There you have it. Grit and glory, baby! Grits are in fact a higher indicator of success than intelligence – I’ve always suspected it, but it’s nice to have a trained psychologist confirm it. In fact, I’ve written on a similar topic before related to a study I came across a few years ago. Grit (and hope) is the reason I’ve arrived anywhere in life. It’s how I made it into graduate school twice even though I’m a terrible standardized test taker (I mean, TERRIBLE). It’s the reason I completed an MBA with honors despite my more than lackluster ability with numbers. It’s how I’ve managed to become pretty tech savvy and contribute more at work. It’s the reason I’ve found my way through difficult economic times. It’s the reason I’ve been successful in my career (success has a different meaning for each of us). My driving force, grit and glory!

It’s how I’ve overcome the extreme shyness I experienced as a child and as an adolescent. It’s how I’ve conquered the emotional issues of my past. And its how I’ve slowly moved away from the statistic I could have easily become and the poverty I was born into (although very first-world in nature). It’s how I’ve managed to do and experience the things that often seemed out of my reach in my previous poor-girl mentality. Yup. You guessed it. Grit and glory!

It’s the reason I’ve accomplished or finished anything in my life – not because I’m smart enough to be a rocket scientist (yeah right!) as many of my schoolmates back in high school would say when they wanted to flatter me into helping them with homework or a big project – but because I have GRIT and lots of it. I never give up. I never take no for an answer if I really want something bad enough. I always find my way. I research. I figure it out. I stay up late. I wake up early. I ask questions. I dig. If this doesn’t work, I’ll try that. I examine all possibilities. And I get it done, whatever it is, and I get it done well. Dare I repeat – grit and glory!

So the next time someone tells you you’re not smart enough, or the next time you start to tell yourself that – I don’t want to hear it. Remember this TED talk and my subsequent rant, and remember that passion and perseverance – or grit – can get you there every time. No excuses, just hustle, grit and glory!

Love,

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Battle of the Chunks: My Struggle with Weight

My Struggle with Weight

This is one of my favorite pictures because although I’m smiling, it was the most physically and emotionally intense workout of my life . That day Eric put the weight back on me to remind me I must push forward.

All my life, I’ve been the chunky gal of the pack, and for the most part, I’ve always been OK with that, because hey, I’m still cute, right? But somewhere towards the end of 2011, that cuteness had quickly become a self-destructive, out of control, big ass PROBLEM. My struggle with weight had reached an all-time high.

After a bad dating experience in which my weight was crudely called out during a fight (don’t fight dirty, folks), something in me just suddenly awoke. Here I was, an educated, independent, successful, kind-hearted young woman, but my weight was allowing others to think it was OK to talk to me a certain way. It was making others believe I somehow deserved less respect, or had less for myself; that I must be pretty weak. I knew the depths of strength I had seen in myself, and I simply could not stand for it any longer. My struggle with weight had to be dealt with.

So I stepped on that scale I had been avoiding most of that year, mostly because I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, and there it was, 248. Those numbers burned into my eyes like tar to a roof. For several days after that, I literally had nightmares with those three, seemingly innocent little digits. Having struggled with weight (although never to this extent) all my life, I wasn’t sure what I would do, but I knew I had to do something.

The next week, I dragged my reluctant, self-conscious butt to the gym, and asked to hire a personal trainer using a fitness benefit I had at the time. I wouldn’t even have to pay for it myself for the first 9 weeks or so, so what was my excuse? I had none. That is the day I met my now dear friend Eric-Todd Rushing. I didn’t know it then, but he’d be the one to save me from myself, and make me as strong on the outside as I knew I was on the inside. I’ll never forget our initial meeting in which he oh-so-confidently said to me, “I’m going to change your life.”

And he did. Over the next four or five months, I logged my foods every day and counted my calories. First 1,800 a day, then down to 1,500 and finally down to 1,200. I did an hour of cardio four days a week, and trained with Eric once a week. Our training session included a weekly weigh-in, and the weight was just melting off. I lost 50 pounds in about four months or so just by working out and counting calories – no pills or crazy gimmicks. Whenever I ran into an obstacle or it got too hard, Eric was there to motivate me back into action. And I never, ever felt better, stronger, more beautiful or more untouchable. Eric had become my hero, my counselor, my mentor, my friend and just the light I needed to make a real change. He had turned my struggle with weight into a triumph.

It was one of the best times of my life. I had finally conquered a life-long struggle with weight, but what I didn’t know then is that the fight had just begun. And it wasn’t just about looking better, but about fighting the emotional demons tied to my weight issues along the way, and breaking down many of those walls.

That’s the thing about losing all that weight. It requires being pretty overwhelmingly perfect, and no human being can really hold that up for too long without taking a break. The issue is I took too much of a break and really starting falling back into some old, devilish little patterns. I gained a pound here and there, and I thought no big deal, I’d still kept the majority of the weight off. Then about three weeks ago I went to the doctor for a totally unrelated visit, and of course they are always waiting for ya with that sneaky little bastard of a scale. Up I went, and so went the tears in my eyes. I was now the not-so-proud owner of 20 of my old, stubborn pounds.

At that moment, I was completely disappointed in myself. I had worked so incredibly hard, and did things I never thought I could with my exercise and food intake routine to lose those 50 pounds, and now I had taken a huge step back. So for the first time in a long time, I quickly and truly got myself together, and began logging my food and calories again; not estimating, not assuming, actually counting. Here we are about three weeks later, and I’ve already lost 10 pounds. Last week I got a little sick, so I got behind, but I’m right back on track. I feel so much better already, and after not losing a pound for more than a year (but gaining many if you recall), I found a way to get back on my game because I never gave up hope that I would, and somewhere deep down inside I had remained that different person Eric had helped me become. I never completely gave up on myself, and I would never let my weight spiral so out of control again.

My struggle with weight is a battle I will unfortunately have to fight for the rest of my life. I am just not one of those people that can slack on diet and exercise for a while, and not pick up pounds faster than you can say, “pick up pounds.” Often, it is our toughest and most daunting battles that we give up on the fastest. We fail and so we feel like there is no point in trying again. But there is a point, a big point. Fail 20 times. So what? If you get up and try again, you haven’t really failed, because you haven’t really given up yet. You really only lose when you’ve given up for good.

So whatever your toughest challenges might be, whether with your body, your heart, your goals, or anything else that weighs on your mind, just keep pushing, trying, fighting. From time to time you will get tired, and that’s OK. But you must never give up on yourself completely. Always remember that each new day is truly a chance to turn it all around, and failure is just really the universe’s way of teaching you something valuable. 

Right now I feel re-energized to work towards a healthier, happier and stronger me, because I know I owe that to myself. What life battle will you be re-energized to keep fighting today?

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Settle & Die (Inside)

How Alive Are You?

OK, so maybe my headline is a little drastic, but you get where I’m going with this. When you settle in life, whether it’s in relationships, in your career, your family life, where you live, your friends, or anything else, you start to die inside a little. You know in your gut the current situation is not making you happy anymore,  you know it’s not enough for you, you know you deserve better, but you stick around, because let’s be honest, that just seems easier. But is it really? In the end, settling for less than what you want or deserve out of life is so much harder. Like SO much harder!

The pain of giving something up that you love, have become accustomed to or are just comfortable with will fade and pass with time, just like everything tends to do in this life. But the pain of holding on, of giving up on yourself, of sitting down and shutting up, will most certainly haunt you forever. It will just build up in the pit of your stomach, churnin’ and grumblin’, until your soul starts to disintegrate piece by piece. And while, on the outside, you might very well seem alive and well, on the inside, where it really counts, you will feel like you’re not really living at all.

So today, I urge you, let go of the comfort, let go of the things or people in your life that make you unhappy, and make room for the things and people you really want, for the love you deserve, the job of your dreams, the life you envision for yourself. Don’t get to the end with a heart full of regrets. Instead, travel your journey with the peace of mind that you have given it your all, that you said, “No,” when it just wasn’t enough, and that you are giving yourself every chance to really live and be HAPPY.

For me this is still quite the little tumultuous battle, but through all of the mental, emotional and spiritual growth I have experienced in the last few years, I have felt the immense benefits time and time again. Once the ouchy fades, I can stand tall and proud, knowing I work every day to do the best I can for myself, to advocate for Sonia, to support her, to demand what she deserves, and I’m much healthier and happier for it. Won’t you do the same for yourself?

With love and hope,

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

From STRESS to STRENGTH in 24 Hours

Whoa! This week just came out of nowhere and slapped me in the face with STRESS. Per my usual style, I think there is a great lesson to learn in my current (although already much better) plight, so I will share it with you! Let me explain how I went from STRESS to STRENGTH in 24 hours. Here it goes.

Bye, bye Ms. Jetta

My sweet, reliable 2006 Jetta Volkswagen has been living on the struggle bus for a few months now. I really don’t know anything about cars other than how to turn one on and drive it, but I’ve had the feeling for some time that something was terribly wrong. You see, the ol’ Jetta got into this nasty little habit of jerking or stalling while driving. Sometimes it was soft and sometimes the jerking was so bad, my body would actually bounce a little off the seat as an involuntary shriek would spill out of my mouth like a baby rejecting split pea soup.

I knew this would not be a cheap repair or a simple process, so I just kept prayin’ on that ol’ steering wheel, and counseling the car to stay with me for just a while longer. Last week, though, the jerking was becoming noticeably worse and worse, so it was time to bite that awful car repair bullet. I had to take it to two different places, and deal with the whole rides there and back situation for several days to get to and from work while the car was being checked. The last place finally told me the sad, sad news. My baby’s transmission had all kinds of problems I couldn’t even begin to understand, and it was best to take it on home to the Volkswagen dealership, and check whether I had any kind of extended warranty on the transmission.

So, fine. I take my car home, and ignore my troubles for one more night through arcade games and some major dancing. Hey, it was Friday night. I can’t be consumed with STRESS on a Friday night! So, the next night I decide to face my impending financial doom, and start looking in my car file for any shred of hope I could find. And there she was. So pretty, so crisp. It was an extended warranty for the transmission valve body (whatever the heck that means!).

I make my appointment to take the car in to the downtown Volkswagen dealer Tuesday morning, and I’m feeling pretty breezy at this point. I drop it off at 7am, and they assure me that if it’s the transmission valve body, they would repair it at no charge. BUT, around 4pm, while I worked from home, I got the call. There was a whole heck of a lot more wrong with the car than this transmission valve body business I thought would save my poor me, and it would cost way more to fix it than the car was worth. Plus, I still owed over $5k on it. It was now time to consider purchasing a new car somehow, with no down payment ready and totally unprepared for such a purchase.

So I take my STRESSED out little toosh down there, and there they were just waiting to take full advantage of my desperation. Somehow I was convinced I was getting a great deal on trading in my car, and leasing a brand new one for a lot more money despite my awesome credit score. They even made me believe I had actually negotiated down the price significantly when I threatened to leave and go somewhere else.

They also insisted this lease on a brand new Jetta was their best deal, even better than any used car they had available. It was not until I got home, and began to really analyze the situation that I realized I probably should have taken my car, and shopped around for a better deal. There, I began to freak out. My car payment would now be higher and so would my insurance premium because of the leasing situation, and the car wouldn’t even be mine. Plus, I hated the feeling that I had just been majorly played because I wasn’t really thinking straight, and to top it all off, my school loan payments start this month! More STRESS.

I go back this morning and attempt to express my disdain and realization that I probably got majorly ripped off, but they have very convincing answers to all of my accusations, plus said I didn’t have an option to back out. I basically left feeling incredibly defeated. Plus, it all happened so fast. I didn’t even really have time to get used to the idea of getting rid of my former companion, the car who had been with me through so much. I was STRESSED, confused and mourning. Situations like this bring back a lot of my poverty and single hustler noise. They remind me that no matter how far I’ve come or how hard I’ve worked, it will still take a long time to fully remedy the effects of that poverty, and that I have nowhere to turn for a little financial assistance in times like these.

Moving from STRESS to STRENGTH

I took the day off of work and basically spent it freaking out, nauseated and majorly STRESSED. But in-between all of that I also made some calls, moved some bills around, reviewed my budget, found some solutions, searched for freelance work,  and slowly started to travel back to STRENGTH. It is now about 24 hours since I originally came home from the dealer with this shiny, new financial burden, and I finally feel like everything is going to be OK. I even found myself looking in the mirror, and saying, “You see? Everything is going to be OK. You’ve always made it without anyone’s help, and you’re going to make it now.” And most importantly, I now have a safe way to get to and from work. My poor ol’ Jetta was nothing but a ticking time bomb.

So what’s my lesson to you? Life is stressful. You can’t always plan for big changes, expenditures or losses, but you can always turn things around, choose your attitude, and find some different options. Take your time to grieve, scream, cry, freak out, and STRESS – whatever you need to do – just let yourself feel it out. And then, once you’ve allowed yourself that time, make a nice cup of chamomile tea, get your thinking cap on, and focus. Don’t let the STRESS break you down for too long. Instead let it remind you of all of the wonderful things you’re capable of, and every STRESS you’ve overcome before. Start focusing on solutions, and forget regret. Also focus on everything you have, and how much worse it could probably be. Most importantly, remember,we can never go backwards, but we can always move FORWARD.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

3 Ways I Never Gave Up

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I’ve never been a huge fan of the word NO. It just always seemed too limiting to me, and little by little, I discovered that NO is usually nothing more than an easy way out; nothing more than a test of how fast I, or anyone, will give up.

When I was younger, I remember asking my overly strict father to give me a good reason why I couldn’t go to the movies with friends. I held a job since I was 15, I was an excellent student, I was a responsible kid, and I deserved a YES. After all, I wasn’t asking to go to a rave or anything outlandish for a 16 year-old. So I’d say (in Spanish), “Give me a logical reason why I can’t go, and I will let it go. I don’t even need money to go. I make my own.” Dumbfounded, more often than not, he’d budge and say YES. Why? Because you can’t fight logic, and most of all, it’s hard to fight that kind of gumption from a teenager. It might be important to mention here that I grew up being terrified of him, so standing up for myself was an even bigger deal. I think it was the beginning of a life of fighting NO, even when I was shaking in my boots while doing it.

So how do you fight NO? It’s simple. You fight NO by never giving up, by not allowing others to define your limits for you, by showing people you really want IT (whatever that IT might be), and by demonstrating that you’re worth the YES. To illustrate my point and hopefully inspire a little NO warrior action in you, here are three ways I fought NO and never gave up (I’ll share more examples in the future). I’ve briefly discussed some of these situations here before, but I really want to take a fresh look at them through a “never give up” perspective, so here it goes.

1. When I applied for my first master’s program with the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, I was denied acceptance based on one factor. I’m a horrible standardized test taker, and I just wasn’t cutting it on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). The rest of my academic record was impeccable, but the test weighed more, and there I had it, a big ugly NO staring me in the face.

But, no ma’am. I wouldn’t stand for it. I knew I was just as capable of completing that program as other applicants with higher test scores, and I firmly believed I deserved a spot. So, I fought, and wrote a letter to the Dean that started out something like this:

Dear Dr. Treise,

They say 90 percent of life is just showing up. This is me showing up.

Then I went on to explain that my rejection seemed unfair in light of an otherwise impeccable academic record, and the fact that I was passionate about the degree I wished to obtain. I asked her not to judge me based on one day and one test, but on a lifetime of hard work and dedication instead.

So what happened? I can’t remember the timeline exactly, but I think it might have been about a week after I sent the letter that I received a phone call from Dr. Treise herself expressing her awe at my initiative and personally welcoming me into the master’s program I had originally been rejected from. I finished that degree with a 3.77 GPA, and a successfully defended Project in Lieu of Thesis despite an abysmal GRE score. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life, but I wanted it, and I did it.

Bam. NO? I don’t think so!

2. Moving to Chicago from Miami took me about three years from ideation to fruition. It seemed like everything and everyone was against me. My family did not support it, and neither did my dire financial situation. Lots of people around me told me I was crazy, and that I should accept the life I already had. Say whaaat? That is super limiting talk, and this girl just doesn’t play that.

Despite all the negativity, I’d apply to jobs, get interviews, and get close to an offer, but at the end of the day I wasn’t local, and thus came the rejections. At some point, I started sending hard copy resumes and cover letters to employers asking them for an opportunity to speak to them, and explaining that I wasn’t looking for relocation assistance (heaven knows I needed it, but I’d figure it out when the time came). I even scrapped together some money to come visit Chicago and setup appointments with employment agencies. The answer was still I’d have to move first. Then, in one of my last desperate attempts, I applied for a 10k private loan to make the move. DENIED.

Finally, the idea came to me that I had always wanted an MBA, so why not now? That would be my ticket to Chicago. So I used my tax return to start the process, take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), apply to several schools, etc. Here again, worst standardized test taker possibly EVER, so I bombed.

I was shattered. I’d never get into an MBA program now. I cried for a few days, and then I got right back up, and began devising my next plan. I borrowed the money to re-take the test, and this time I did a little better; good enough to gain me an acceptance from one great school, even if it was on probationary status.

So I made the move, and lived off of loans, part-time work/internships and entry-level jobs until I finished the degree and got settled into a great full-time position at the right level and for a lot more than I had ever made before. Plus, I was off academic probation within one straight A quarter, and was hugely successful throughout the entire program.

NO? I won’t make it? I’m not smart enough? Errrrr. WRONG.  I still made it ya’ll.

3. Back in 2009, life was ROUGH. Nothing seemed right. I was broke, heartbroken, lost and confused. I’d worked so hard my entire life, and it just didn’t make sense to me that I was struggling so badly just to make ends meet and keep my spirits up. It was then that I slowly started to awake to how my humble upbringing, lack of parental support, and history with emotional abuse had really affected me. There were days when something as simple as grocery shopping seemed like climbing Mount Everest. I remember oceans of tears, and a feeling of hopelessness that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

But I kept chuggin’ along. I stayed focused on my escape to Chicago. I kept working through the tears, both at my day job and freelance writing at night. I scrapped money together to visit friends in other cities and take a few breathers. I pushed through the hopelessness, and I fought, because I always knew it had to get better, and there was something bigger waiting for me.

And now, if that Sonia met this Sonia, she wouldn’t even recognize her. I have taken control of my life, my surroundings and my feelings, and I’ve been on HAPPY Street for close to three years now. Of course, I have bad days. That will always be a part of life, but now I have the tools to recover faster.  Plus, I’ve learned to seek more love from myself than from any outside source, and now I’m not so vulnerable to the things I cannot control.

Sometimes I think what if I had given up then? What if I had taken all of life’s NOs and ran with them? I would never have been able to enjoy the person I’ve become, the life I’ve built, the wonderful people I’ve met, and this frequent feeling of JOY that fills my heart where a lot of sadness used to live. And there we have it folks. The moral of the story is you should never let others define your limits. Just because someone else might not have been successful in a similar endeavor, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a better way.

Do you have a fighting NO and never giving up story you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it, and others can surely benefit from it as well. Come on, give it to me!! 🙂 And remember, success is not always about being the smartest person in the room. More often it’s about hard work, perseverance and heart.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie