Ms Huffman Polson’s engaging book is not what I’d expected, but it’s better. I anticipated a memoir/war story/there I was tale. It is that kind of book, partly. Mostly it’s a deep study into what motivates people, or should, and the various things that hold people back, especially women in a man’s world.
The Grit Factor, when one acquires it, allows them to succeed, often despite their self doubts, the ‘imposter syndrome’, their focus on the obstacle rather than the goal, and in general peoples’ ‘grit and determination’. The author was the first woman to fly and deploy (to Bosnia) in the Army’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. She knows whereof she speaks, because she tried a few of the traditional routes for success, found them wanting, and discerned her own. The Grit Factor details that path.
Huffman Polson cites the admonition from Isaiah, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ She was privileged growing up, and she took that biblical mantra to heart, finding a life of service, in the words of Frederick Beuchner ‘where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.’ Her deep gladness was service, and particularly toward women who’d mentored her, many of whom were interviewed for the book, and for those younger women in need of mentoring.
She writes about Katie Higgins, first woman to fly with the Navy’s elite demo team the Blue Angels. She tells us about General Nadja West, first black female surgeon general in the U.S. Army. Alda Siebrands, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, Edna Davis, who flew Martin B-26 bombers during WW2, Bessie Coleman, Angel Hughes, even Uhura, the black female navigator on Star Trek.
Huffman Polson writes about ‘the 5 whys’, changing the narrative to bring success, about ‘tailboom counseling,’ and ‘muddy boots leadership’, and listening skills that are a key to leadership, because we’re all hard-wired toward a bias for action, which pressures us to do something, instead of just listening. The Ask—Listen—Pause treatment can enrich and embellish a decision, she says.
As for advice, she offers this: That we need to ‘draw the circle,’ to figure out who our friends are. We must actively search for mentors, a difficult obstacle for women, she says, because asking for help can be seen as weakness. She advises that the tough navigation is steering clear of negative people, because they bring nothing helpful to the table. In a surprising discovery, she advises women in positions of power over men to be cautious of jealous wives and girlfriends who may feel threatened. In addition, she advises women not to try pleasing everyone—something women find themselves doing—but to be their authentic selves, however difficult that is. She quotes Eleanor Roosevelt here: You not only have a right to be yourself; you have an obligation to be yourself.
The good news, for women, about the last bit of advice is that, as the author says, good leaders always care for their people, something that women seem to be better at than men. As for facing failure, she offers another interesting finding: Don’t be afraid to find people who have failed, she says, because you’ll know how they reacted to that failure.
This reader found an answer in the book to a question that has persisted for more than 50 years: How to explain my ambivalence about Vietnam? Huffman Polson may offer that it’s because I was unable to take ownership of the rationale and conduct of that long-ago war in South Asia. That few of us who fought there believed in it enough to make it our own, and to embrace the benefits that would have followed. Finally, she states that, as every pilot knows, facing into the wind equals lift. Likewise, facing our fears, the wind in our faces, creates the same affect, lifting us just as surely on our personal wings.
Highly recommended. In an aside to the author, I thought the book review essay idea for OERs was excellent.
Shannon Huffman Polson is also author of North of Hope. A Daughter’s Arctic Journey