A face half hidden by shadows

I think perseverance / resilience / grit / commitment are important values.  Values that are critical to our success.  To the point, I don’t believe natural talent scores over these gritty contributors.  Really.   

And perseverance ranks top in my own list of values-in-action.  So, I feel like I know about this from a few different directions.

While I feel slightly unfaithful – because I love Angela Duckworth’s book ‘Grit’ (a lot) – I’m going to illuminate the darker side of perseverance.

Why?  Because it’s a big problem no-one is talking about.  Because every client of mine past and present (and likely future) is already good at grit.  Too good.  And as I write, I’ve just finished a conversation with another smart, successful professional who was deeply puzzled at being dangerously bored doing what he’s always done – and still does well

He increasingly feels all sorts of things ranging from guilt to desperation.   This is not unusual.  Or a luxury problem.  It’s truly hard maintaining a role that no longer feels aligned with who we are.  It’s the big giveaway that strengths are not the same thing as values.  And if we misguidedly use perseverance to keep going regardless, we get in deeper and deeper trouble. 

Why do we do that to ourselves? Because that’s what makes sense rationally.  Or because we can’t grasp a clear idea of what to do otherwise. 

So, we employ resilience.  Right? Wrong!  

Spot the Signpost

Sometimes it is more important to ‘keep calm and think twice’ than it is to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

Stop and think twice

In her book, Duckworth writes: ‘grit is about working on something you care about so much you’re willing to stay loyal to it…not just falling in love [with what you do] – staying in love’

So, in early conversations with clients I often say things that go against what people know about persevering.  But I’m aware their first time hearing them.  Ever. So it can feel confronting and alarming or a huge relief for people as I illuminate why maintaining the status quo is self-sabotage.  Because they’re no longer in love with it.  Instead, it has crossed to the dark side: keeping us trapped, out of fear of the disruptive change that could set us free from this oppressive feeling.  From letting it suck the joy out of an otherwise perfectly lovely life. 

Towards the end of this conversation, I ask if he feels it is time to act?  I need to assess his readiness, his commitment to this change he wants.  Because the tipping point for change is all about timing – it is not about being a bold or impulsive change-maker.  That would be stupid.  And my clients are a particular breed – smart and already successful.  Not stupid.  But with a crossroads to navigate. 

My coaching is most powerful for those who know they want support getting this handled.  To puzzle at it with someone objective until they have the clarity they need to make a plan realigning what they do with who they are…today.  And then get support to act on that.  And be held accountable actually.  So those are the only people I work with.

Their first step is about recognizing something has shifted.  And it likely lies between their personal and professional.  This piece has been a powerful part of the conversation today.  It has touched a nerve and been uncomfortable.  But also immensely worth it.  Because facing up to that is how people come to terms with the fact their numb or desperate feelings have a name. Unfulfilled.  And when they can see it, they don’t want to be it. They know unfulfilled is untenable.  So, we make a plan that navigates their crossroads, together.

Keep Calm And Think Twice

Find a place to think twice

Meaning is actually our most important psychological need.  And why it’s transformative to live a life we didn’t know we wanted. That’s why belonging, connectedness and our relationships are so critical.   And guess what, the drive for meaning-making shows up with real power at the developmental milestone most of us hit around 40ish.  

When our career-building chapter may be done or thereabouts.  We have the house, the shiny car, go on holidays.  Often around this time, this coincides with leadership positions that move my clients away from doing what they enjoyed most about their careers on the way up. 

They’re well-established. Highly competent at what they do. So think being unfulfilled doesn’t make much sense.  We think achieving all that is what was meant to make us happy.  That’s why unfulfilled feelings come into focus as a threat to all that we’ve worked for.  Instead of a prompt to review, revise and set fresh goals.  Goals that make sense of where we’ve come from but are congruent with who we are today.

Coaching seasoned professionals is about backing up first.  Keeping calm and thinking twice.  Identify the need-satisfaction gap. The one where what we do contradicts who we are on some level. From there, we can plan change that realigns work you love with what matters most today.  It lives in the place professional and personal meet and always comes down to work-life synergy.

Whatever that is for you, and it isn’t always about being a career-changer or shrugging off corporate life to start a business from scratch.  Sometimes it’s about a subtler shift.  A cultural change?  Better work-life balance? Inner-Leadership?  It’s different for everyone but what runs true for us all, is this:

It’s transformative to live the life we sometimes didn’t know we wanted and thrive again.

The Stories That Blind Us

My daughter using her grit!

Are you aware of the stories you tell yourself?   The stories that can keep us trapped in a status quo that’s working against us but we’re blind to? Unless we uncover them. 

  • Never give up. No pain, no gain.  What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger
  • After all this time/commitment/investment, I can’t throw it all out
  • I’ll get a shiny new (car, house, kitchen – Big Ticket Thing) to make work feel worth it

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Optimism has a darker side too.  After all, it would be irresponsible to quit that well-paid work if it supports your lifestyle / family without a plan because you believe something better will come along.  Because you’re optimistic.

So, don’t abdicate responsibility for your next steps to optimism.  But if you’re ignoring important career-change indicators, please spend some time puzzling at these stories you’re telling yourself.  The ones that hold you back and keep you from getting into action.

Are they based on something relevant today? 

Or are these stories from the past?

What If …

What if you were optimistic enough to move past these outdated stories?

What if you believed you are in control of the change you want?

What if you could actively boost your chances at achieving synergy between career and fulfilment?

What if you redeployed all that grit you’re so good at and diverted it towards these hard first steps?

And what if your efforts set you up for success?  Despite the disruption.  

What if you figure out your incongruence today and so you can feel more aligned tomorrow?

What if you persevere in this quest, instead of repeating what used to make sense?

Grit vs. Quit:  Think Twice to Get It Right

Stop everything, think twice

Not everyone has a coach to support them through all that.   And it’s a lot. So, taking inspiration from Duckworth’s Grit Scale, I’ve set out a few indicators in a Free PDF to help you think twice and decide which is right for you – in a few minutes – Grit or Quit?

So, keep calm and ask for help to think twice here.  This Grit vs. Quit Indicator has you think through Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale first, and then revisit that self-talk from a second angle. Considering the Grit-isms twice, it will only take a minute to prompt clarity about whether this is a time to use Grit vs. Quit.  

Send me the grit vs quit indicator

If you have hit a point where you feel bankrupt of clarity about whether to use your grit or quit and know you want support with that, I’m happy to offer a clarity conversation. 


  • Helen Hanison

    I'm a leadership coach helping seasoned professionals who are at a crossroads, with a growing need to redesign their career but feeling blocked. And worried about that. Together we make a plan realigning work they love with what matters most so they can finally make aligned, confident transformation instead.

    If you'd like to receive actionable advice about redesigning your career, I'd love you to sign up:http://bit.ly/ambitionstothrive

    My story could be called 'from career to motherhood and back again'! With a 20 year 'tour of duty' in the worlds' largest PR firms, I came to a career crossroads after I transitioned from woman to mother. I got lost for some years and having moved country (and back again), and tried a bunch of different ideas both sides of The Pond, I went back to University for a second time - to do psychology. My efforts were well rewarded with first-class honours, an energy ‘reset’ and clarity about the fresh career ladder I wanted so badly. I had found Leadership Coaching and subsequently completed a (rigorous!) programme of training with the world’s largest coach training institute – CTi and have since become a narrative therapist too. Now I love that my commercial edges and marketing savvy work alongside my brand of positive psychology coaching, and know the integration is a powerful one for my clients. I passionately believe we only get to feel as alive and aligned as I do today, if we shape work we love around what matters most and that has synergy with the life we want to be living. In some ways my story represents the hard way to figure what work-life synergy looks like. And that's what I help others with now. If you feel stuck and wish you knew how to make a plan to change that, I'm happy to offer a complimentary clarity conversation. Just email me - [email protected] - and we'll organise that.