I learned from a friend this morning that new Marines take three tests: intelligence, fitness, and grit. The greatest indicator of success is a recruit’s score on the grit test. (Caveat: I didn’t check this fact for the Marines, but I did find this article in The New York Times that says something similar about West Point cadets and college students.)
A few days earlier I had re-watched Little Miss Sunshine, one of my favorite movies, whose moral could be summed up as: things may not work out as you hoped even if you score 5 out of 5 on the grit test. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched the movie and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now.)
A thousand pushups won’t help colorblind Dwayne become a pilot in the Air Force. Frank has forever lost the pinnacle of Proust scholarship, and Olive will certainly never wear the Little Miss Sunshine crown.
But the movie is very much about how grit matters despite all that. From the eternal pushing of the clutch-less VW bus to stealing grandpa’s body from the hospital, this family epitomizes the refusal to give up.
Not the refusal to fail. They do nothing but fail, as measured by society’s standards and their own goals, in the entire movie. But they never give up.
Olive doesn’t win the pageant; Richard doesn’t get the book deal; and Frank doesn’t get the boy. I think life is like that sometimes: grit doesn’t necessarily get you what you’re aiming for, but it might get you something better.
What’s better than winning life’s many beauty pageants? Dancing to “Superfreak” on stage surrounded by those who love you.
Note: My friend Anne Ford will be guest blogging while I’m on vacation for the next two weeks. Anne is the author of Peaceful Places Chicago and is wonderful and funny and by the end of two weeks you will wish she had her own blog.