Dear LT: You've got grit

Dear LT,

My first Second Lieutenant mug shot

My first Second Lieutenant mug shot

In my first few weeks as the first women assigned to fly the Apache helicopter in the XVIII Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg, NC, one out of 120 men in the regiment, I was sent to a nearby Marine Corps base for a women's history month breakfast. After the meal, the host walked me up to the commander of the base.

"Sir, this is Lieutenant Huffman," she said. "She's the first woman to fly Apaches at Bragg."

"Nice to meet you Sir," I said, and held out my hand.

The colonel looked at me. He did not smile. He straightened his shoulders, swiveled on his heel and walked away.

This wasn't the first time the environment I was entering revealed itself, and it certainly wasn't the last. It wasn't close to the worst. I remember making a small smile and saying "Hmmmm," and thinking, as I did each time, that there would always be people like that in the world, and having also to steel myself just a little bit more each time inside, which is to say, I had to find the grit down deep. You've got it too.

First days flight training as a second lieutenant in the UH-1 Huey helicopter

First days flight training as a second lieutenant in the UH-1 Huey helicopter

You're going to find grit indispensible in your career (but it's not the only thing...we have a lot to talk about!) You'd think that times have changed, but you'll read in the She's Got Grit profiles that things haven't necessarily changed all that much. Women are forging the way into new arenas all the time, and now almost anything is open to you. A field being open doesn't make it easy, though. and while it may not be easier to enter a new field, there are lessons new leaders can learn and strength we can find in those stories of making it through, past the detractors and in the midst of environments set up for failure.

Coming across across Angela Duckworth's TED talk on GRIT, I was riveted. Grit is the word I've always used to define my years in uniform. There were other things too, good and bad. There was a fierce pride, there was terror and excitement and frustration and elation, disappointment and triumph. Most of all, though, was grit. It turns out GRIT, if defined as resilience, has become something of a buzzword in both business and parenting. Forbes asks if you have itNational Geographic says it's more important than IQ, and there's even a GRIT institute.

So what is it? Duckworth says grit is passion and perseverance toward very long term goals. It's the thing that gets you to take one step and then another when you think you can't after a tragedy. A woman Everest climber I know says it's the rainy bivouac. It's some combination of courage and perseverance, endurance and fortitude. It isn't always pretty-- in fact, it rarely is-- but it's the part of each one of us that helps us keep going when we feel alone and exhausted. You have it. Whether it's how you responded to a bully at school or how you found the will to run at the fullback with the blond ponytail and the fearless charge, you have grit. Sometimes you just need to find it.

With stick buddy Anders Kyed from Denmark outside our UH-1 Huey trainer

With stick buddy Anders Kyed from Denmark outside our UH-1 Huey trainer

I hope that these letters, along with the stories from people who know a thing or two about GRIT might inform and equip your own journey, as well as help you build environments where GRIT is less about survival and more about thriving. 

You're going to have a great time. Know that there are those who have gone before you, and who survived and thrived. You will too. 

When has grit been a function of your success? How do you define Grit?


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