Beyond Grit: Learn, Burn and Return

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion Page, January 19, 2020

There were an awful lot of purple tears flowing last weekend.

I’m referring to the aftermath of losses by the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens football teams, whose players and fans sport purple jerseys.

Although a Vikings victory was considered a long shot, the loss was met on social media with an explosion of “of course they lost” posts, tempered by “better luck next year” sentiments.

Football fan or not, there are lessons to be learned from the crushing end to the season.

Whether one wears helmets, heels, suits or work boots, we all experience disappointment, even humiliation.

One day pro football players might be dazzling audiences with spectacular plays. The next day they might be emptying their lockers as sportscasters speculate about their future.

It’s not much different for those of us who don’t make headlines or earn millions of dollars. Life is filled with uncertainty, change and circumstances beyond our control.

One day we’re healthy, the next we’re recovering from a heart attack.

One day we’re married, the next we’re sleeping alone.

One day we’re running meetings from the C-suite, the next we’re scooping out the kitty’s litterbox.

When we get out of bed and the lower back aches, when we pitch a sale but the prospect doesn’t bite, how do we take the next step?

We do it by setting our minds to it.

We do it by viewing problems as gifts, not obstacles.

We do it by being committed and consistent, by responding, not reacting.

So says Cindra Kamphoff, an expert in sport and performance psychology.

As a marathon runner, Kamphoff knows that mindset is the engine that propels us forward.

As a professor, speaker, coach, and author, Kamphoff makes a living by offering high performers a framework for connecting mindset to peak performance.

Though she works with NFL players, CEOs and entrepreneurs, Kamphoff’s approach applies to anyone who wants to live her best life.

After I heard Kamphoff speak last month I bought her book, “Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge.” Barely  into it, I’m already thinking about how it can apply to my life as a wife, mother, grandmother, writer, speaker, sister and friend.


Being successful, becoming a high performer in any aspect of our lives, doesn’t happen by osmosis. It’s a process that requires reflection and action.

What we do we want to achieve and why?

How are we going to get there?

What will we do when we falter?

We begin by reflecting on what we want. It might be a great marriage. It might be to help others. It might be to create something that has yet to be created.

Once we have a vision, we establish goals – enough to be achievable, not so many as to be unrealistic.

We write them down in ink and revisit them regularly.

Goals are personal and run the gamut: take the grandkids to Disney World; get a big promotion; start a book club; or win the Nobel Prize.

Research shows that people who set goals are more likely to have good marriages, keep their jobs and complete challenging undertakings.

Identifying and scripting goals provides focus, energy and accountability. Doing so is a step toward developing grit – the determination to keep pushing forward when faced with obstacles or fatigue.

While we’re wired to think negative thoughts, people who thrive in their pursuits are overwhelmingly positive thinkers. Yet, positive and negative thoughts can be fierce competitors on the battleground of our minds.

Positive thinking requires consistent and concerted effort. I suspect that’s why my Facebook page is filled with messages about being positive. I know it’s why I read them.

What gets in our way of achieving our goals?

Best laid plans are hijacked by life’s other real or perceived priorities.

Too much analysis leads to paralysis.

Ruminating on past mistakes keeps us from embracing their lessons and moving forward.

Worrying about the future distracts us from planning for and embracing it.

When we make mistakes, when things don’t work out as planned, Kamphoff says we must learn, burn, and return: learn from our mistakes, brush them off, then return to our mission.

To keep my eye on my vision for this year, I chose an adjective that has a lot of bandwidth for me — deliberate. I hope it will help me to be more present, positive and gritty.

Being deliberate means making a plan that enables me to do meaningful work, forces me out of my comfort zone and requires me to take some risks.

Being deliberate means living thoughtfully. It means choosing my words and tone with care.

Living deliberately means making thoughtful choices about how and with whom I spend my time.

Living deliberately means focusing more on what is happening today than on what happened years ago.

It means making conscious choices about how I earn and spend my money.

It means making thoughtful choices about eating out and working out.

It means making more room for joy.

My dream is for 2020 to be my best year ever. But a dream is just a dream without a plan.

And so, I’ve done my reflecting, inked my plan and placed it in a conspicuous spot. If things don’t work out as I hope, I’m going to learn, burn and return. Just like the Vikings.


If you enjoyed this piece and would like to read more of Caryn’s work, you can sign up to receive her columns by email. You can also purchase a signed copy of her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” which includes some of her most popular columns, here. Need an inspirational speaker who offers a roadmap to living the “better” choice? Please reach out.