Getting gritty: How to build personal and financial resilience (Pt. 2 with Caroline Adams Miller)

The mind-money connection

If you’re looking for someone to get you fired up about pursuing your goals—financial or otherwise—Caroline Adams Miller is here to help.

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Bright Dickson (00:12):

Welcome to "Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian," a podcast that will help you create better money habits and boost your mental outlook and well-being. I'm Bright Dickson. I study and practice positive psychology, the science of what makes a good life.

Brian Ford (00:25):

Hey everybody, I'm Brian Ford and I enjoy helping people achieve financial wellness, which also helps you live a better life.

Bright Dickson (00:31):

We're excited for this part two of a special two-part episode with Caroline Adams Miller, one of the world's leading experts on positive psychology. She's a bestselling author and speaker who helps people go after the things they want in life. Listeners will remember Caroline from our last episode where we talked about the link between happiness and setting goals, among many other fabulous topics. And now we're going to talk about how you can pursue those goals by developing grit.

Brian Ford (01:00):

Yes, I'm so glad Caroline has joined us again. Let's get right to it.

Bright Dickson (01:10):

Caroline, welcome back to the show. We're so lucky to be able to share your wisdom for not just one, but two episodes.

Caroline Adams Miller (01:16):

Great. I'm here.

Bright Dickson (01:18):

I think we could probably record maybe a dozen, a baker's dozen podcasts with you without running out of things to talk about. I've just got that feeling.

Caroline Adams Miller (01:26):

It's fun. I'm having a great time. Let's get at it.

Brian Ford (01:30):

I'm personally stoked to have you back on our show, and in our last episode we talked a little bit about this idea of grit and how it can help us achieve our goals, whether they're financial or personal. So let's get more into this kind of conversation about being gritty. And I've got a 14-year-old boy and he loves watching football, and one of the most popular touchdown dances right now is called the griddy. It's not spelled like the grit that we're talking about today, but every once in a while when dad gets excited around the house, I bust out the griddy and then the whole family ends up laughing at me and making fun of my wicked sweet dance moves. But I'm pretty sure we're talking about a whole different kind of gritty today. But I'm excited.

Bright Dickson (02:16):

Brian, I hope at some point somebody records that dance 'cause I'd like to see it. But first things first, Caroline, what are we talking about when we're talking about grit? What's grit?

Caroline Adams Miller (02:26):

So grit is the passionate pursuit of hard goals. I have advanced that definition a little bit on top of Angela Duckworth's definition. She's really the grit researcher, MacArthur "genius grant" award winner. I think grit is only good when it's used to elevate other people as well. I think grit is a team sport, so we need passionate persistence of hard goals, but I think those goals in the way that we pursue them, if they have a positive impact on other people who then ask themselves, "God, what if I live like that?" that's when I think it's a particularly useful positive quality.

Brian Ford (03:09):

I hadn't thought about that aspect of it. I like that. So let's say we've got goals that we're really interested in pursuing. What does grit have to do with it? I mean, why does grit matter?

Caroline Adams Miller (03:20):

Well, I'm going to answer that with a question. Both of you, think about the hardest thing you have ever accomplished in your life, something you pursued and achieved. What you'll probably have coming up in your mind's eye is something that you're really proud of that took this quality of grit that we're talking about. We find that the hardest goals are the ones that create the greatest well-being, and often they're life-altering events. It could be asking someone to marry you. It could be choosing to end a relationship. It could be changing your career, betting on yourself. The issue is all of those hard goals require this X factor of grit. So if you're going to have those kinds of big events in your life where you've taken risks and been bold and really lived life, you've got to have this quality. And fortunately, the quality can be cultivated. It's not something you're born into, it's not something you can buy. This is a character thing that involves certain behaviors. So we can all cultivate grit, but if you're going to have big goals, you better understand grit and have some.

Bright Dickson (04:32):

And how do we build that? How can we cultivate that grit? What do we do to make sure that we've got as much grit as we can cultivate in a given moment?

Caroline Adams Miller (04:43):

Well, as the mother of three children who grew up being told they were winners without doing a single thing to deserve it, I think we can start by changing the culture around us. Just recently, NYU just fired a professor because the students complained his grades were too hard and he actually was the author of the textbook for inorganic chemistry.


I think we have to really take a look at what are we asking of ourselves? What are we asking of the people around us? If our children, if the people around us think they're winners without ever taking a risk, without ever facing defeat, without ever licking their wounds and figuring out how to adjust ourselves or themselves to be better, to push harder, then you can't accomplish anything hard. You will never have grit. You cannot take the easy way out with grit.


There's a kind of grit I call faux grit or fake grit where you've taken shortcuts or lied or cheated in some way to look like you did something hard, but you didn't do it. Everybody wants to be seen as gritty. Everyone wants that special forces kind of mantle, but you can't skip the hard work. And too many people are faking research, getting fake grades, skipping a loop on a triathlon. I mean, there's all kinds of things people are doing. And so you can't skip that part. You have to actually prepare yourself to be persistent and to have a way to get through the emotionally and even physically challenging times that your goal has as part of it.

Brian Ford (06:14):

Yeah. Well, Caroline, I have to admit that sometimes when I think about grit, I think of it like an individual sport, just you against the game. Am I right in that, or do other people come into the picture here?

Caroline Adams Miller (06:27):

I think it's both/and. So you do have to have a certain amount of individual grit. What's interesting when you look at Angela Duckworth's research on gritty people, even going down to national spelling bee winners or finalists at the ages of 10, 11, 12, people with good grit actually are comfortable doing hard work by themselves. They don't need props, they don't need flashcards. They prepare themselves to have the willpower to do hard things. However, when you look at really hard goals, what you often find is they're not accomplished alone. There's usually somebody who supported you or a team who picked you up. I mean, grit has baked into it the fact that it's a long-term goal. It's not short-term. That's resilience. Long-term is grit. You're doing things for a long time to achieve this very hard goal, and nobody gets through those dark nights of the soul, those setbacks, those times when you want to quit, without a support team around you. So it's really both/and.

Bright Dickson (07:27):

Yep. Caroline, when you asked us that question about what was the thing that we're most proud of, a couple things came into my mind, and then what I thought was like, oh, there was a lot of crying involved in all of those things, and those were my tears, and it just really took me back to the idea that grit is really hard. It's not something that comes easily. You kind of have to earn grit, but you earn the reward of it while you develop it, I think, over time.

Caroline Adams Miller (07:53):

Yep, yep. You can't be a quitter and you can't let the people around you quit. Friends don't let friends quit.

Bright Dickson (08:00):

Can grit ever get misconstrued? So I know around a lot of positivity, there's talk around toxic positivity and leaving it at, turn your frown upside down, and that's all we leave people with. Do we need to be careful around grit in similar ways?

Caroline Adams Miller (08:17):

Oh gosh, yes. This is why I came up with three forms of bad grit, and I have a definition for good grit. But as I already said, this kind of faux grit or fake grit is a bad kind of grit. The one that's most common that I think everybody can relate to is stupid grit. You get an idea and you won't listen to anybody else's kind of feedback about why you can't do it that way. A lot of entrepreneurs don't listen to their boards of advisors. They're just drunk on the fact that this is what they need to do. That kind of stupid grit can hurt yourself or others around you. It can take down a company. In mountaineering, it's called summit fever. You get drunk on getting to the summit.


And then there's selfie grit where this might be the top salesperson in your office or on your team. They do hard things, but darned if they don't tell you all the time what they did and how they did it.


So what you find in good grit is humility. Two kinds of humility. There's intellectual humility. They want to learn as much as they can about how to get better at something, and they're happy learning from other people. They're curious. They don't feel diminished by excellence around them. So there's that.


And then there's social humility, people who are comfortable not always being in the spotlight, letting other people shine. So those two types of humility are a key factor in cultivating good grit.

Bright Dickson (09:40):

That's really helpful to keep in mind. It makes me think about social media and how we all want that shot of us crossing the finish line, but who's taking the shot and how many times are we posting that shot? And we've got to be careful of all of that kind of stuff around grit, but also just how we have our relationships and how we present ourselves in public. So that's really helpful. Thanks, Caroline. We'll be right back.

Brian Ford (10:07):

OK, team. I want to take a quick break from the nitty-gritty and remind our listeners that you can email us at We'd love to hear what goals you're working on this year. Tell us what grit means to you or drop a money and mindset question so we can try and answer it on future episodes.

Bright Dickson (10:39):

Right. So recently we've had a couple listeners mention that they're interested in learning more about how to network and particularly around their career. So we thought we'd take a second to share some of our favorite personal networking tips. Brian, what do you do? How do you approach networking?

Brian Ford (10:54):

Yeah, I like this question from our listeners. Thank you. First, when I think of networking, I like to think of quality over quantity. We may have a bunch of connections on LinkedIn, but how many of those connections would pick up the phone if you called them? So a couple of ways I'd like to strengthen these connections. One is I like to take my online connections offline. This might mean going to lunch with someone, picking up the phone, having a meaningful conversation with that individual, leave voice messages. I know that's not as popular. Again, my two daughters that are, my gosh, one's not even a teenager, she's in her 20s now, but I've got the teenage daughter, I've got the 20s, they love making fun of me for voice messages. They're like, "Dad, no one leaves voice messages anymore. Just text me." And I'm like, "No, you get to hear my voice. You get to hear that I'm happy," and so forth. So leave voice messages for folks.


Another thing that I have found is a simple formula that I learned at a networking event. I know sometimes those are not as fun and they're kind of scary sometimes, but I would recommend some networking events, especially if it's hosted by a good organization. And at this event, I learned the simple kind of formula and it is this: Learn, serve, grow. So we want to learn about people, especially our online connections. What are they interested in? What's the name of their spouse? What's their favorite dessert? What do their children enjoy? Or maybe it's just a business challenge they could use some help with. Stuff like that. Then you use that information to serve them in meaningful ways, and then you watch your relationship grow.


So for example, this one time, this individual, in fact, it's when I started at the company I work with now at Truist, and she was in HR and she learned that I love chocolate chip cookies, and wouldn't you know, a week later, she had some chocolate chip cookies for me. And I loved that. That meant something to me, and then I got to take that home and share it with my family.


So those are a few things I think about, but I really like that simple model of learn, serve, grow.

Bright Dickson (13:00):

Yeah. For me, I get a little twitchy just around the word networking. There's something that just my brain doesn't like about it, makes me kind of feel gross a little bit. So I have to reframe it for myself in any kind of moment where my brain goes, OK, this is networking, to "I just need to be curious." I just need to be curious about other people. And that's my only job in this situation is to be curious and listen to other people. And that really helps me relax and be able to go into whatever with a mindset that really works for me because curiosity is one of my strengths, and that is just helpful for me to approach it that way rather than "I'm here to network," because that feels weird for me. Maybe that's just me, but I think it feels weird for other people too. But Caroline, I know you do a ton of work with women in leadership, so I really want to know your take on this networking question. What tips do you have for our listeners?

Caroline Adams Miller (13:56):

Oh, wow. Thank you for including me. Well, so I'm going to go back to some research. When women network like men and they just have, let's say, quick LinkedIn connections, it doesn't work for them. Women are wired with oxytocin. We have that "tend and befriend" response, which is we need to develop relationships, real relationships with people who have that curiosity and enthusiasm when good things happen to us. So women build relationships, and I think that's one of the most important things. You just can't go in and replicate everything that's been working for men because the research shows, and it's increasingly sophisticated research, don't just take all the success, literature, and examples at face value; check in and see, did it work for women as well as for men? Maybe it didn't.

Bright Dickson (14:43):

That's great.

Brian Ford (14:44):

Yeah, I like that. I appreciate that. Well, that was good input from everybody and we really do appreciate that question. We hope that's helpful. For those of you who submitted questions about networking, and again, just a reminder, we love hearing from you, so do keep those messages and questions coming.

Bright Dickson (15:00):

Yep. Please email us. Again, the address is So are we ready to get back to the topic of grit and look at how it can impact your financial picture?

Brian Ford (15:10):

Yeah, let's do it.

Caroline Adams Miller (15:12):

I'm ready.

Brian Ford (15:20):

OK. Well, as we think about grit and how it relates to our finances, Caroline, what does grit look like when it comes to our money?

Caroline Adams Miller (15:29):

So I think the biggest thing that holds people back from saving the kind of money that they want to save or achieving the kinds of financial goals they want to achieve is a lack of willpower. And again, this is something that we've seen just decline precipitously in the most recent generations, kind of the quick fix, the YouTube moment, all the rest of that, everyone's a winner. So I think we all have to develop this goal and we have to have short-term goals that feed into longer-term goals, like saving for children's college education, that give us that feeling of mastery.


So make sure it's your goal, not someone else's goal, not your broker's goal, not your parents' goal, not your culture's goal, your goal. What does that goal mean to you? What's the "so what?" And then break it down into steps where you can have a feeling of mastery. And if you have to develop different ways to overcome a desire to spend, I know people who put credit cards in the freezer, they cut them up, they lower their credit limit. I mean, do whatever you have to do to stop that quick fix approach to money and to getting where you need to go.

Bright Dickson (16:30):

I think those little steps, even of the equivalent of putting your credit card in your freezer now, because it's all hooked up to my computer and everything, I need to unhook it so that I've got that burden of entering my number every time that I want to go to spend. And that kind of leads me to a question, Caroline, for you. So totally asking for a friend of course, but if grit is partially about passion and someone isn't totally passionate about finances in general, how do we stay gritty around our finances for the long term? What do we do if we're just not that passionate about the world of finance?

Caroline Adams Miller (17:13):

I think there's a way to make finance sexy.

Brian Ford (17:15):

Yes. What do you mean make it sexy? What do you mean make it?

Caroline Adams Miller (17:19):

It is. Right, it is sexy. It's totally sexy. Passion is part of grit and I think you have to bring some passion to it. What are you saving money for? Do you want to give money away? Do you want to endow something in your grandmother's name? I think for a lot of women, there is this story they've been told growing up about how money is a man's job. I remember the Barbie doll that used to say, "I hate math." Do y'all remember that? "I hate math." They took that Barbie off the market, thank goodness. But I think in order to develop passion, we have to personalize it again. What is it that money represents to us, that gives us freedom, that allows us to do something maybe for somebody else? You can make money sexy. Find someone who has made it sexy and ask them how did they do it? How did they develop passion?


For me, I have a client who's a major philanthropist, and when I listen to her talk about how she researches her causes and how she gives the money away, she really does remind me of Jeff Bezos' ex-wife, how she does it. The impact it has, what she sees on people's faces, for me, that's sexy money. And the very basic questions she asks about her accounts, how they're invested. I've learned so much listening to her. I think money can be taken down to basics and anybody can be empowered by it and then see what money can do that's good.

Brian Ford (18:47):

Yeah, I like that a lot. Before we close things out today, I want to throw in just kind of a bonus question for Caroline. You asked Bright and I think a pretty poignant question at the beginning of this episode, and I want to go back to that. And that question was, what am I most proud of? And I started to contemplate that, but I know you've asked that question to probably hundreds of people. And I'm curious from your experience, what have you heard from people? What are the types of things that you've heard them say? Because a lot of things came to my mind, and that was very eye-opening for me because as I started to think about these big things that I'm most proud of …


Well, one, it's being married for 23 years. And dang, it's taken some grit. It's not easy. It's tough. I think about writing my first book down in my basement, grinding it out, doing the research, wondering who in the world would listen to me and those types of things. And then when it's finished and it's done and it's impacted people's lives. But as you've gone about doing your good work and you ask this question from people, what are they most proud of, what do you hear sometimes?

Caroline Adams Miller (19:52):

Gosh, I think your examples are very typical of what I often hear. By the way, grit has been seen in men who stay married, not so much women. So I think that's interesting.

Brian Ford (20:03):

Oh, a topic for another day, maybe?

Caroline Adams Miller (20:06):

Another day, right? I hear about times people have chosen to go to a certain college for no money versus one that offered them a full ride. I've heard about people taking a risk and moving to another country without knowing how to speak the language and finding that their most rewarding volunteer work came from that. Asking people out. But it's always defined by taking a risk where you don't know the outcome, and it's because you're in pursuit of something that at the end of your life you're going to regret not knowing whether or not you had what it took to try. And those types of risks really lead to extraordinary results, and that's where people figure out who they really are and who has their back.

Brian Ford (20:51):

I like that. I think grit can apply anywhere you've got a tough but meaningful goal.

Bright Dickson (20:57):

Before we sign off, let's recap a couple highlights from everything we went over today. So Caroline, what's something that our listeners might want to keep top of mind as they go out and try to get a little grittier in their lives? What should they remember?

Caroline Adams Miller (21:12):

I developed grit in my 20s from hitting my last bottom from bulimia. And that's when I discovered that talent and success didn't equal grit. I had a nice resume at that point, Ivy League university, but what I didn't have was grit because I had always stayed in my comfort zone. Whenever you've been broken, whenever you've hit bottom, there's an opportunity to redefine who you are to yourself. So grit is often cultivated in the petri dish of failure. And grit can be cultivated. So that is my takeaway on that topic.

Brian Ford (21:48):

I like that. Couple things for me, I liked how we started out the episode with a nice definition of grit. I couldn't have defined it I think until today, which is being passionate about achieving hard goals. And then I liked your addition, Caroline, which was something I hadn't thought of, which is, OK, we're passionate about achieving hard goals, but then, so what? And I liked your idea of just how that then can inspire others. And I like that added addition to the definition.

Bright Dickson (22:15):

The passion part is I think so important. And what really got me too is the personalization part, that it's not just about just the perseverance or just the passion, but making it really personal to you, and that connection to meaning for you. And even the deepest meaning, right, Caroline, connecting to those moments where you feel like you're at your bottom and you're working your way up from there. That's how we create meaning and that it's all personalized. I think that's a really important takeaway for me.

Caroline Adams Miller (22:47):

Yeah, if you don't have that passion, you won't achieve a hard, gritty goal. So it has to be your goal. I think there's a Hebrew word, zitsfleysh, which means that kind of second wind that you get because you're passionate about something. So hope I didn't get that wrong, but it's the passion that sustains us because hard work and failure is baked into gritty goals.


And if I could just say one more thing, one of the most important things I learned about grit and that I think separates authentic grit from any other kind of grit is that how you pursue this hard goal that you're passionate about without needing to be called a winner or get some kind of bonus or pat on the head or trophy or whatever, how you pursue it ought to awe and inspire other people to dig deeper and ask themselves if they could live like that. So if we're not awing and inspiring other people, we're not creating the contagion of grit. And to me, that is the separation between the 21st century and the 20th century. It used to be about self-help. I think now it's about we-help. If we're not doing it together, I'm not sure how we're all going to survive.

Bright Dickson (24:01):

Caroline, thank you so, so much for joining us. We loved having you. It was such an honor. If our listeners want to hear more from you, which I bet they will, where can people find more of your work? Where can they connect with you?

Caroline Adams Miller (24:14):

My website has everything, and my website is my name, I coach executives and leaders. I have executive retreats at my beach house. I've written a lot of books and courses, but start at my website and go from there. There's something for everyone.

Bright Dickson (24:30):

Awesome. Thank you so much again for joining us. And thanks as always to our listeners. Remember again, you can email us at to share how you're getting gritty, and catch us with old episodes. We've got lots of stuff out there, more episodes of the podcast, more tips and resources online at

Brian Ford (24:53):

Yeah, if you liked this episode, you're definitely going to like some of the stuff we've got coming up, so subscribe for episode alerts and consider sharing the podcast with someone you care about. Until next time.

Speaker 4 (25:13):

This episode of "Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian" is brought to you by Truist.

Bestselling author and executive coach Caroline Adams Miller rejoins Bright and Brian for another episode in this special two-part series to discuss how cultivating “gritty” personal qualities can help us grow our financial confidence and get after the goals that will have the greatest impact on our lives and happiness. (If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to the first episode with Caroline Adams Miller here.) Plus, the crew shares their answers to listener questions about networking for professional success.

Listen in to learn:

  • Why it’s OK to fail—and how humility helps us become more resilient
  • How grit can help you hit your financial goals
  • Why there’s no “quick fix” approach to pursuing your money goals


“The hardest goals are the ones that create the greatest well-being. Often, they’re life-altering events—like asking someone to marry you or changing your career and betting on yourself. All these goals require the X factor of grit. Fortunately, grit can be cultivated.”
-Caroline Adams Miller

This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, mental health, or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.