True Grit: 8 Ways to Help You Find Yours

When situations get challenging – in business, politics, sports and outer space – a certain degree of perseverance is required in order to achieve success.

Some people call it “grit.”

As part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner; former astronaut and football player Leland Melvin; and Bradford and Bryan Manning, cofounders of the clothing company Two Blind Brothers, took the stage Friday at Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater to explain how they were able to endure setbacks and turn misfortune into strength.

Here are eight tips to help you find your grit:

1. Failing Can Be Good

Warner told the story of how he was the only student in his Harvard Law School class not to get a job offer after serving as a summer associate at two different firms. “[It] was one of the great blessings of my life,” Warner said. “I ended up deciding that I was going to pursue politics.”

In other failures that wound up having silver linings, Warner told the audience how, early in his entrepreneurial career, he lost his life savings – $5,000 – on an energy start-up company. Later, he had a real estate company go belly up.

2. ‘Little Engine’ Mindset

Melvin, who played wide receiver for the University of Richmond and was drafted by the Detroit Lions before becoming an astronaut, said the popular children’s book “The Little Engine That Could” played a huge role in his upbringing. “My parents instilled in me this belief that I could do anything I put my mind to by reading it. … ‘I think I can, I think I can,’” he said.

3. Being Nice

Having a giving heart pays dividends. “A thing we do that has allowed us to be a lot more successful than we expected is our attitude toward doing for others and doing good for other people,” Bradford Manning said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s an incredibly powerful business tool, too. The person who gives the most is the person who creates the most leverage for themselves.”

4. You Need a Team

“Nobody can do it alone,” Warner said. “If you think about Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates – any of the iconic great American companies – all of those founders had partners. If you’re aspiring to be an entrepreneur or a founder, you’re never going to hit all your marks of that idea. Living that experience with somebody else who can complement your skills is one of the most important lessons I ever learned.”

5. Find Your ‘Man in the Yellow Hat’

After dropping a key pass in a high school football game, Melvin’s coach pulled him to the sideline. Instead of yelling at him, he did just the opposite.

“He grabbed me by the facemask and said, ‘I believe in you.’ He was my Man in the Yellow Hat,” said Melvin, referring to the character from the “Curious George” children’s book series. “Curious George always got into trouble and was doing things that sometimes weren’t the right things to do, but he always had someone at his back – the Man in the Yellow Hat.

“I really think grit is about having people who have your back. [You] only need one man or woman in the yellow hat.”

6. Love What You Do

“For us, I don’t think there’s any magic other than the fact that we love what we’re doing,” Bradford Manning said. “We got lucky to find something we enjoy tremendously. It makes it so much easier to deal with all the headaches.”

“Some of it is selfish,” Bryan Manning added. “We are fighting for a cure for ourselves. There are 11 million other folks who have retinal eye disease, but we’re two of them. Selfishly, we get to build a community of unbelievable people and help propel this cause forward. That’s what we love.”

7. Roll the Dice

When Warner told some of his lawyer friends that he wanted to go into the car phone business, they thought he was crazy. Warner went on to make his fortune as an early investor at Nextel.

“Whatever you want to do in life, you have to be willing to take chances and risks,” he said.

8. Don’t Back Down

“Embrace grit,” Bradford Manning said. “Embrace hardship and your weaknesses. Tell a great story. Do great things for other people. And if that’s not enough, you actually can reach out to Bryan and I personally at and”

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Associate Office of University Communications