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Posted August 29, 2018

Every few years I like to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone, to remind myself to live and feel fully. Today, as I land in Italy to embark on the Virgin STRIVE Challenge, I reflect on the journey that has led me to this opportunity to grow myself in new ways. You see, for many years, with my head down building a business and raising a family, I was not able to even dream about pursuing other personal passions and experiences.

STRIVE is a purpose-driven challenge that unites an extraordinary group of entrepreneurs, thought leaders, disruptors, philanthropists, inspirational speakers, educational trailblazers and motivated young people from around the world to push themselves beyond their limits. I will cycle 60 miles a day for four days through Sardinia and then kayak for two days across the Mediterranean to Corsica to raise money and awareness for Big Change, a cause focused on supporting and transforming the next generation.

Completing STRIVE is a huge personal goal for me – and I have been training my butt off for months in preparation for this challenge!

Coincidentally, while preparing for this mental and physical endurance test, I have been engrossed in the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. In it, she tells the story of young cadets struggling through their first days at West Point.  She reveals that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent, as most people believe, but a special blend of passion and persistence that she calls “grit.”

According to Duckworth, in order to make it through West Point, cadets would need to survive a seven-week training program designed to separate the “wheat from the chaff” . . .  the “exceptional” from the “average.” During the admissions process, something called the Whole Candidate Score is calculated – a combination of SAT scores, high school rank, leadership appraisals, and physical fitness measures, all culminate into West Point’s best guess at which cadets would master the skills required of military leaders. Yet, despite the emphasis on the Whole Candidate Score as the most important factor in the admissions process, it did not accurately depict who would actually make it through the program. In fact, the cadets with the highest scores were just as likely to drop out as the ones with low scores.

Ultimately, the fundamental insight from the author is that our potential is one thing . . . but what we do with it is quite another. No matter the domain, highly successful individuals had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways:

  1. They were resilient and hardworking
  2. They knew deep down what they wanted

This combination of passion and perseverance made high achievers special. In other words, they had grit!

The underlying theme of this book has made me reflect on de-motivating messages I heard growing up as a woman – and some that I still hear today: that I was not smart enough, I was not educated enough, or that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something just because of my gender or because I have children.

I did struggle with grades and I was the skinny kid on the sports team. I have attention deficit disorder. But I never gave up. Despite the so-called “chips” stacked against me, I won’t stop striving to do better, to be better and to continue setting my sights on the next challenge to conquer, both personally and professionally.

As it happens, I have not trained fully for STRIVE. I had food poisoning that cost me two weeks, and then I fell twice while riding the bike, which set me back another two weeks. Yet I am here and I am going to do every single kilometer. Because I have actual grit in my wounds and the road rash to prove it!