WHEN ROSE O’DONNELL was five years old, her mother passed away from the 1918 flu epidemic. This was shortly after her four-year-old brother died. Rose, and her remaining brothers and sisters, were raised by their father, Edward O’Donnell, in San Francisco. Edward had left school after the ninth grade.
What Edward lacked in formal education, he made up for with grit—a special blend of passion and perseverance. Edward became a self-taught expert in copper, founded O’Donnell Copperworks and held several patents, including the invention of heat exchangers used for pasteurization. He accomplished all this during the Great Depression and Second World War.
When I was growing up, I often heard the story of Edward and Rose—because Edward was my great-grandfather and Rose was my grandmother. How did adversity help Edward—and later Rose—to succeed? Why do some flourish when others fail?
Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit, has found that no matter the domain, the highly successful are unusually resilient and hardworking. They know deeply what it is they want. It’s about what goes through their head when they fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—determines what happens next.
Edward didn’t always have grit. Instead, it was something that developed over time by continually putting one foot in front of the other. As he discovered, effort counts twice and greatness is doable.
Edward’s commitment was simple and noble: provide an education for all five of his children. His relentless dedication and discipline made this mission possible. Many years later, Rose relied on her education, independence and grit when she ironically faced a similar fate, losing her husband and raising five children on her own. As a child of the Depression, Rose was extremely frugal and resourceful. She prioritized her children’s education and extracurricular activities. Living in the trenches with her father paved a gritty path to her own success.
According to Duckworth, grit can be cultivated. There are two ways to do so—from the inside out and the outside in.
Individually, we can grow and expand our interests, develop consistent habits of challenging ourselves beyond our existing skills, and connect our work to a purpose greater than ourselves. But like Rose, we can also use our parents—or coaches, mentors and friends—to help us develop our own personal grit.
Surround yourself with people who have grit, and they’ll rub off on you. Indeed, I like to think some of Rose’s grit may have rubbed off on me.
Anika Hedstrom’s previous articles include Stay in Your Lane, Known and Unknown and Trek to Retirement. An assiduous researcher, Anika Hedstrom is a Certified Financial Planner who writes on the motivational and behavioral aspects of financial planning. Follow Anika on Twitter @AnikaHedstrom.