Grit: A Key Trait in the HVAC Trade (and Life)

You may have heard of a Western movie called True Grit. I won’t spoil it for you, but John Wayne joins Kim Darby to hunt down the man who killed Darby’s father and left with the family’s savings. (Wait, you’re telling me there’s a version with Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, and Matt Damon? I thought that was a bad fever dream…)

Darby’s character is a teenager named Mattie Ross, and she goes out looking for someone with “grit” to help her avenge her father’s death. She had such an unwavering focus on her goal, and NOBODY was going to deter her from that mission. 

Actually, I’ll spoil one thing: Mattie is the one with the “True Grit.” She’s the one who stays determined in the face of adversity and never gives up.

Some of you may have had tough days and felt proud of yourselves for getting through them. Or maybe you look up to a hard-knocking senior tech who has been through a lot and still manages to get out of bed every morning and set a positive example for the apprentices. 

It’s no secret that the HVAC trade is full of challenges, and it sometimes draws in folks who have been through a lot. But grit is in so many people in our trade, and it’s perhaps one of the most important qualities you can have if you want to make it in an HVAC career.

 

What is “grit,” anyway?

The term “grit” has existed for a long time, and it basically means courage and resolve or strength of character. 

However, that’s a pretty one-dimensional look at the word’s meaning. To better understand what “grit” really is, I like to think about a book by Angela Lee Duckworth called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

In Duckworth’s book (and TED Talks), she presents her findings from her research in childhood education and the factors that lead to success and failure. 

Of all the success indicators, the one that showed up most often was the ability to set long-term goals and stick with those goals regardless of setbacks, difficulty, and failure. Duckworth used the term “grit” to describe this trait, and that’s how I like to define “grit” as well. 

Since Duckworth’s initial findings were published, the data has been tested over and over, not only in children but in adults as well. 

What did they find?

Those who displayed more grit tended to fare better than those who gave up more easily.

 

A test of character

 

One reason why I love the skilled trades is that they build character. Sure, there are ways you can build character as a lawyer, marketing manager, or fast-food cashier, but there’s something about the trades that brings out who we really are. 

Natural talent will get you off to a good start, but the HVAC trade requires you to keep learning and facing new challenges. That’s when growth happens. The installer can mature into a fine craftsman, or a mere apprentice may one day become a senior technician as she develops an appreciation for the physical and mental tests we experience each day.

On the other hand, a person may decide to walk away as soon as they have to patch up an aluminum coil instead of changing out the whole coil. The task is simply too hard for them, so they walk away. Or a helper may start to feel overwhelmed by the number of tools he needs, so he walks away because he can’t borrow from others for his entire career.

Grit is all about learning and tackling tasks without throwing in the towel at the first sign of adversity.

 

How to tell if YOU are gritty

Let’s be real here: we’re not always honest with ourselves when we do personality tests. We answer as though we’re the person we WANT to be, not who we actually are. So, as I ask you these next two questions, I encourage you to be honest with yourself. There is no judgment here.

1. How do you deal with disappointment?

2. How do you react when your well-thought plans don’t work out? 

In either case, if you tend to give up or get stressed out when your plans don’t work out, then you may lack grit.

I, too, lack grit at times. I like to make long-term plans with the intention of seeing them through when things go well. But when things go south, I tend to want to quit and move on to the next thing. 

Truly gritty people not only come up with plans but stick to them even when the pressure is on. Whether they encounter unexpected obstacles or miserably fail at one step of a large plan, they see things through.

 

How do we build grit in ourselves?

If you lack grit, there’s no need to fear! While some people may be grittier than others due to their personalities and life circumstances, grit is something that we can build over time. 

Here are a few small things I enjoy doing that inspire me to be grittier:

Keep your goals in sight with a “life board”

This first exercise may sound kind of cheesy, but I like creating a board that reminds me of my goals. I take a poster board (or a mini corkboard or something in that vein) and decorate it with magazine clippings or printed pictures of places I want to go, people who matter, things I want to accomplish, and words that mean something to me.

Some of you may keep a picture of your spouse or your kids in your wallet or somewhere in your van. That’s one way of remembering what’s important to you even when things get rough. The “life board” essentially does the same thing; it keeps important goals and reasons to persist in front of you. 

Do you want to go on that vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains someday? Paste a picture of a black bear in the mountains on that board! Want to start your own business eventually? Keep a drawing of your dream company’s logo on the board! Make sure you put those goals in a place where you will see them every day to keep them in your mind.

Use emotion as a signpost   

Gritty people aren’t robots that simply don’t feel disappointment or stress. They experience those feelings just as we all do, but they treat those emotions as “signposts.” 

In other words, those emotions are just markers of how they felt at the moment they experienced pressure, disappointment, or failure. They don’t allow the emotions to persist and impede their goals; they treat those negative emotions as mere marks on a timeline.

So, grit isn’t a superhuman immunity to disappointment, failure, or simply feeling stressed. Instead, it’s an attitude that allows you to accept how you feel in the moment and move on without letting those negative emotions define you.

Find ways to hold yourself accountable

Some of us are naturally better at holding ourselves accountable than others. Some people can take a step back and say, “Yeah, I messed that up but can keep trying and do better next time,” or, “The chips are down right now, but I have to accept that and keep going.” That’s great, but a lot of people aren’t like that.

The rest of us need someone to keep us honest and tell us the unpleasant truth about our behavior. Maybe that person knows when we did a sloppy job instead of giving our all, or perhaps they can just tell us when we’re whining too much. In any case, it helps to have someone who cares enough about us to tell us the truth and keep us focused on what matters when we’re about to give up on a goal.

 

Being gritty isn’t a superpower or anything like that, but those who have grit will almost surely do better in their careers. Passion and talent are only part of the equation for success, and they will only get us so far. The willpower to keep going, even when we’re under so much pressure and feeling disappointed, is what will get us where we want to be in life.

 

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