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The Greatness of Grit

One characteristic that makes someone good at big-wall climbing is grit. Grit can be defined different ways. It can be thought of as tiny particles of crushed rock. The oyster reminds us that without grit, there is no pearl. Grit is a characteristic that is a mixture of courage, resolve, and strength. Like small granite rocks, grit is strength that won’t give up. Those who are gritty have a passion to pursue a goal over an extended amount of time. No one is born with grit. It’s grown into us through the difficulties of life. Look up the word grit in a thesaurus, and it says it all: “Courage, bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, resolution, determination, tenacity, perseverance, and endurance.”

The grittiest rock climber I ever met is a man named Mark Wellman. I was 18 when I asked him for his autograph and shook his hand. I had recently hiked the well-established trail to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. At the top there is a rock called the diving board. I inched myself to the edge and peered almost 5000 feet to the valley below. As I shook Mark’s hand I was in awe of the strength of his grasp. He had recently climbed up the face of Half Dome without the use of his legs. After 13 days and over 7000 pull-ups, Mark became the first paraplegic to make the climb.

We tend to think our own problems are large. But that’s just because we’re comparing them to things that are too small. Like me writing this book: “Oh, writing is so hard,” I complain. If Mark Wellman can pull himself up Half Dome, I can sit down with my shiny laptop in a comfortable coffee shop and hack out a few words. The obstacle is never a valid excuse. Rock climbers look for obstacles, and that’s what lights their fire.

When I looked into Mark’s eyes, I saw a kind of strength that I hadn’t seen before. When I saw Mark’s determination and shook his hand, it changed my life. It was like a transfer of energy had taken place. I had no idea that Mark’s resilience would help me develop my own.

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