Embracing true grit: Good, bad & ugly

What does it mean to be passionate? To be courageous in times of trouble?

On this episode of Women of Washington, hosts Gigi Schumm and Aileen Black welcomed Caroline Miller, a groundbreaking author of books focused on self-help and positive psychology. Her newest book, Getting Gritfocuses on the development of strength, courage and resolve.

Miller, a fifth generation Washingtonian, grew up in a family full of Olympic athletes and that alone set the bar high, and she did everything she could to meet expectations, at least on the surface. Growing up Miller struggled with an eating disorder — bulimia — from which she now has more than three decades of recovery. She credits that struggle with showing her the way.

“It was hitting my last bottom that caused me to sit back and say, ‘How am I going to really deal with this? How am I going to beat it?’ And because of that, it’s a gift in many ways. It’s what forced me to develop grit,” she said. “In hindsight, that’s why I’m so fascinated by grit. I realized you can develop it, you don’t have to be born with it.”

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Miller graduated from Harvard University, where she studied history as an undergraduate and the University of Pennsylvania, where she received a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology.

While Miller didn’t necessarily see herself going into the field of history, she said there was not much to choose from when she was in school. She felt the subject would be a good catch-all, and could prepare her in some ways for critical thinking.

Miller found her passion for people and understanding what makes them act the way they do through both her struggle and studies.

“I think I like to understand why people tick a certain way. It’s just a curiosity. I was a journalist and I’m very curious about people … and because I’m so curious about why did I get better from bulimia and stay better when so many women of my generation did not get better,” Miller said. “So, that’s a piece of what made me interested in why did I get better. [It’s] figuring out what their obstacles and blind spots are that will then take them over the finish line.”

Now in 2018, Miller said we are dealing with a generation that’s been told they’re special, that they’re bubbled wrapped. She said this has created an environment where it’s not OK to take risks, it’s not OK to get hurt and it’s not OK to fail and get back up.

On the surface, this is one area that may prevent women, or anyone in general, from trying. Miller said its once you learn that you’re capable of overcoming setbacks, you learn what your strengths are and you examine  your values more closely.

“I think it’s important to say that if we’re not sharing our stories of failure and setbacks with the people around us, they’re not learning,” she said. “There’s good research showing that people have more hope and they work harder when they’re aware that other people have overcome obstacles.”

One area Miller warned against though, was developing bad grit — or choosing to keep going even when it isn’t the most beneficial.

Miller said to make sure to develop your own opinions, follow dreams as far as they will take you and if you fall, learn to get up and keep moving forward.