By Muhsin Ibrahim
Cristiano Ronaldo is unquestionably one of the greatest footballers in the world. Needless to say, he has lifted almost all trophies, except the World Cup. Notwithstanding, his recent performance at Manchester United is anything but superb. I am not a football pundit, but I am old enough to understand if someone is no longer in their prime or the odds do not favour them anymore.
Naomi Osaka is a much younger athlete than Ronaldo. She had a winning streak, including defeating her role model, the undisputable tennis GOAT, Sareena Williams. However, the lady luck stopped smiling at her after that remarkable performances and victories. Much unlike her much older athlete colleague (i.e. Ronaldo), she didn’t summon her grit at that time. Instead, she had a rethink. Thus, she tried the fashion industry and, well, succeeded.
In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Adam Grant subtly criticises Angela Duckworth’s argument on grit in her famous book, Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. He says we should avoid “escalation of commitment”. What’s that?
Grant defines escalation of commitment as “When we dedicate ourselves to a plan, and it isn’t going as we hoped, our first instinct isn’t usually to rethink it. Instead, we tend to double down and sink more resources in the path.” Isn’t it what many of us do?
Of course, Osaka goes back to tennis. And, yes, Ronaldo may come back. However, if I were him, I would rethink my commitment to professional football. Grant (2021:229) points out that “gritty people are more likely to overplay their hands in roulette and more willing to stay the course in tasks at which they’re failing, and success is impossible”. In other words, gritty people go into foreclosure.
Honestly, I side with Grant’s argument more than Duckworth’s. We may be passionate about several things. Nevertheless, we may not succeed even after trying our best possible. For instance, how many relationships have had to let go? That doesn’t mean they aren’t our calling. Instead, it tells us that we aren’t cut for it. Hence, instead of pushing and pushing, rethinking and reversing may be our best way out – and, of course, way forward.
Being on social media for nearly two decades, many young people (I am also young, by the way) have talked to me about their passion for writing or doing postgrad programmes abroad, among other things. So naturally, I do my best to advise many, if not all of them. But, frankly, some of them should rethink their dreams. It’s glaring that some do not have what it takes to be writers or secure foreign scholarships.
I am also experimenting with a profession outside academia. Bluntly, I am beginning to rethink. I am not under duress to foray into any field. I am deeply grateful to God that my take-home salary pays my bills and more. While I may still pursue the – or another – profession in addition to teaching and research, I will not foreclose my thoughts.
Finally, try and try harder. Suppose you fail ad infinitum, please, stop and have a rethink. Rethinking should not necessarily come after a series of failures. It could or should come almost at any time. Moreover, that doesn’t mean grit is unimportant. I think without it, both Ronaldo and Osaka would not have gone that far. Even yours faithfully had to apply grit to be where he is – Alhamdulillah.
Muhsin Ibrahim wrote from Cologne, Germany. He can be reached via email@example.com.