I will not die on a treadmill.
Let me back up a little bit. Angela Duckworth wrote a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In the chapter about how effort counts twice, she quotes Will Smith, who said, “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill… if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”
Angela shares a study done by Harvard University starting back in 1940 when 130 sophomores took the Treadmill Test, a challenge to run on a treadmill for up to five minutes when it was set to a steep angle and fast speed. Some quit a minute and a half in, while the average lasted for four minutes. Decades later, they followed up with these participants to see where they ended up in their careers, social activities, satisfaction with work and marriage, and things like use of mood-altering drugs.
Here’s what they found: “It turns out that run time in the Treadmill Test at age twenty was a surprisingly reliable predictor of psychological adjustment throughout adulthood.”
So the question is, how long would you have stayed on the treadmill?
In a later chapter titled “How Gritty Are You?,” Angela describes an encounter with an aspiring entrepreneur. He describes a short jaunt of all-nighters to raise thousands of dollars for his start-up. Angela tells him to email her in a year or two to share if he’s still working on that same project with that same amount of energy.
She defines grit for this energetic entrepreneur like this: “Grit is more about stamina than intensity… Grit isn’t just working incredibly hard. That’s only part of it… Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.”
For a long time, I’ve obsessed over learning about habits and perseverance, those who live a small life on repeat that adds up to big change. If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you’ve seen my fascination with the man jogging in my neighborhood, who, by the way, still jogs every single day up and down my street. I look back on my childhood and see the flashes of me quitting on the cheerleading mat, stopping halfway on a standing back tuck, feeling completely okay (or maybe not) with being the one who stops first on the treadmill.
The good news for me, and maybe for you, is that Angela believes that grit can be learned.
When I study Joseph’s story in Genesis 40, I see grit, driven by passion and perseverance, his faithfulness to serving God despite the literal pits and prisons he finds himself in. As Jess shared this week on the Dig Deep Podcast, we see Joseph thriving as his story is getting deeper and darker. We think his story can’t get any worse. And then it does.
Jess suggested that we see Joseph staying present in his current circumstances. We don’t see him dwelling too much on his past, which could have made him too bitter to move forward. We see Joseph taking strategic steps for his future, asking the cupbearer to help him.
“But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness… I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”Genesis 40: 14-15
Joseph acknowledges his past, reflects on the pits in his life. But he doesn’t stay stuck. He has an eye for the past and for the future, while his primary focus remains on serving and growing right where he finds himself in the moment.
People like Joseph have long fascinated me. It’s why I write posts about how watching scrappy people crush it will never get old, or how it takes time to build (which I never like to relearn), or how to cancel your pity party. (I can read these posts today like they are brand new knowledge, as if I wasn’t the one to write them.)
Joseph is in a season of waiting, a dreaded feeling for many of us. He’s waiting for promises to be fulfilled, for a life that’s just not as messy and lonely and disappointing. And he’s forgotten, time and time again, like when the cupbearer is released and completely restored, but then he forgets Joseph, the one who served him during their shared days in prison.
You know what I think? I think Joseph would have passed the Treadmill Test with flying colors. Joseph is gritty, he’s focused and doesn’t let setbacks bring him down.
Me, on the other hand, I’ve got some grittiness training to do. Thankfully, I find comfort in Angela’s reflection on the Treadmill Test: “Staying on the treadmill is one thing, and I do think it’s related to staying true to our commitments even when we’re not comfortable. But getting back on the treadmill the next day, eager to try again, is in my view even more reflective of grit.”
Who’s with me?