Embracing the Marathon

Grit is the essential factor in finding success during the pandemic and into the future. 

Some of my fellow columnists in this issue have astutely pointed out that 2021 has, so far, felt similar to 2020. COVID-19 continues to dominate our thinking and have an everyday impact on our lives.

To that end the pandemic seems to be comprised of its own unique time outside the normal turn of a clock or calendar page. For this reason, operating throughout the pandemic has truly been a marathon, not a sprint.  

What’s the key to successfully navigating this historic time and maintaining success into the future? Grit. 

From in-store social distancing to managing exhausted teams, passion and perseverance especially are essential. These two characteristics must flow throughout the company, back office to the store floor. Every challenge from COVID-19 provides an opportunity to keep moving towards your desired outcome.

Our grocery stores have become the hub of our communities. Grocery workers have not only been providing an essential service but they have been the ones who have shown compassion and support to our customers and one another. They have shown the five characteristics of grit:

  • Courage to come to work and take care of communities 
  • Conscientiousness, being careful and vigilant to keep our stores safe
  • Perseverance, they show up to work in times of crisis
  • Resilience, they power through any challenges and help keep communities going

This takes the entire team from warehouses, truck drivers, our staff in our offices and especially our front-line workers who are there to serve customers every day and show up to work. They have become the pipeline for food and necessities. 

Another aspect of grit is flexibility. The doggedness grit requires might seem like the antithesis of flexibility, however, adopting grit requires a growth mindset. COVID-19 is a generation-defining obstacle, and so the roadmaps from the past will not do. Lessons must be learned, and we are all inventing the path as we go. Implementing programs that may have taken a year or longer basically happened overnight to serve our customers.

Finally, there is something most people miss when thinking about grit, and that is how it relates to the future.

Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, who has spent her career studying and measuring grit, explains grit is defined by “passion and perseverance for very long term goals, having stamina, sticking with your future, and living life like a marathon, not a sprint.”

Maintaining drive towards an unarticulated or even vague goal simply isn’t possible. Doing so would defy human nature. If we are purpose-oriented people, then we must have a definite view of the future. And we must hold these ideas tightly while remaining flexible.

Oprah Winfrey famously said, “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” This is a quote that strikes at the heart of the matter.

When I think about the future, I start to think more about how the pandemic has accelerated the once distant changes many have long predicted. The e-commerce adoption curve has rapidly sped forward across every demographic. Shoppers are looking for retailers to inspire their at-home culinary explorations.

Our industry has navigated change quicker than we ever thought possible. As these trends accelerate, making the future come to fruition sooner than expected, those with grit will be the winners during and after the pandemic.