Book Report: “Grit to Great,” raising kids with GRIT; also Melatonin and the Longing for Sleep

This time of year is when lots of folks (me included) who at other times have no problems sleeping at night, suddenly begin to struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Something that was taken for granted earlier in the year now is elusive and highly-sought-after. Tears are shed. Worry lines are etched. Sleep is lost over it, ironically. Many factors–the time change, less light, less activity, colder weather, and whatnot play into this seasonal phenomenon.

🙁 It’s not great.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I read. I always have a big stack of books that I pass by during the day’s activities, wistfully glancing at them. Now and then running a finger longingly across them. So when I experienced a prolonged bout of insomnia recently, I picked up this book and read nearly all of it in one sitting: Grit to Great, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval.

Photo by Amalia (thanks, sweetie!)

Photo by Amalia (thanks, sweetie!)

I lost a lot of sleep over this book.

Furthermore, if you are a parent of children who are still at home, perhaps you ought to lose sleep over it, too. Or at least maybe you ought to think seriously about some of the content. That’s my bald recommendation. The concept that in order to do big things, we must work hard and possess some real grit, is not a new concept. But it is a concept that is largely forgotten, in our current day and culture, in my opinion.

Our kids are lazy. At least many of them are. And lazy people are not all that successful. You know this. I know this. We provide everything for them, in our all-consuming love for them, and in so doing, we rob them of the inclination and practical knowledge of how important it is to learn how to work.

And that’s why this book kept me up. Actually, for several weeks earlier this autumn, I was waking regularly around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and then lying there in bed for a couple hours, fretting about this or that. The real reason I was fretting was because, hello, I couldn’t sleep! And I was worried about how I would make it through the next day without crashing and burning, if I didn’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours. The worry over not sleeping was causing me to be an insomniac.

Ironically. 🙁

I finally decided that if I was going to stay awake half the night, I’d at least get something done. I played mind games with myself, and I’d put my reading glasses and a book next to my bed every night, thinking that if I woke up during the night, I’d do something enjoyable and read a bit. (I don’t have an indoor pool, or else I probably would have promised myself to swim a few laps. I love to swim and rarely have the privilege to do it, at least not when the town pool is closed, from August to May!)

I tried to psych myself out with actually looking forward to my middle-of-the-night wakefulness. Nutty, huh?

Here I was, after all, wasting quiet time when I could have been reading! Sure, it wasn’t ideal in that it was in the middle of the night, but since I didn’t have much choice in the matter* I just decided to make lemonade out of them lemons.

That morning I woke up–wide awake!–at 1:00 (Gaaaaah!) I didn’t waste time fretting over it. I just snapped on the reading light and started to read this book.

Need a kick in the backside to get something done? Here you go!

I hoped to read for a few minutes and then drift back off to sleep. But this book (at least the first half) was so compelling, and exactly what I needed to read, that I had a hard time putting it down. It woke me up and convicted me to act.

The authors, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval tackle a topic that is close to their own hearts and one that they feel is the real secret to their own success in their careers–and in the careers of so many people they know and have met. That issue  is the incredible power of grit, perseverance, sweat, determination, and sheer stick-to-it-tiveness. These two women have started and run wildly successful businesses. The basic thesis of the book is that if you want to succeed in life, you need to have grit, and grit in this case means working harder and smarter than anybody else. They bring out lots of real-life examples of this.

They point to research that shows that we really overvalue talent and intellectual ability in our culture. The fact is, so many people get ahead–even the gifted ones–because they work incredibly hard, put in the thousands of hours of practice and extra sweat equity, and made their own luck. This gives me hope, since I don’t view myself as spectacularly talented, but I know for a fact that I can work really hard.

My parent’s generation got this. My own generation? Not so much. My children’s generation: still learning it (hopefully).

This book is illustrated with lots of stories and the latest research on success, and it is a compelling read, especially if you are discouraged or are stuck in your own goals.

But all that is not why it kept me awake. I’ve kind of figured out by now that working hard is a better determiner of success than talent or “lucky breaks.” I’ve been around the block a time or two. I watch people and observe that the successful people in my own circles are the ones who are not afraid to work hard; the folks who don’t feel sorry for themselves when they find themselves putting in extra hours working to succeed; those who don’t think twice about doing their own work, rather than expecting somebody else to come in and rescue them and do it for them.

What really kept me awake, long after I put the book down and snapped the light off, was thinking about our culture, the disservice we (largely) are doing to our children in not teaching them to work hard, and particularly my own relationship with my youngest. Little Mack, as (I suppose) many youngest children, coasts quite a bit on the laurels of his older (and very capable) sister. He knows that as long as she is around, that he doesn’t have to work very hard. She is always there to pick up the slack. I’m doing him a real disservice in not teaching him that learning to work hard is essential to a successful life.

So we’ve been working on that. 🙂 And I thank the authors of this book for reminding me about this. All is not lost. He has an older brother, after all, who coasted for a time (I won’t mention his name), fortunate for three older siblings who had learned to work hard and did the lion’s share of the chores and extra work for him. Until they left for college, one by one. Then that boy learned satisfaction from working hard. Good thing, too. I would feel like a failure as a mom if he were still living in the basement, expecting me to do his laundry and cook his meals for him. And nothing could be farther from the truth in that young man’s regard.

One more thing, then I’ll let you get to work, yourself. 😉 My friend Jamie shared with me just yesterday, when I mentioned that a good night’s sleep was increasingly elusive to me, that probably I needed to take a Melatonin supplement; that “as we age” (wince) our bodies don’t produce this hormone that is so necessary to good sleep.

I looked at her and thought “duh.” Of course. Why hadn’t I thought of this, instead of working up mind-games with myself? When so many other things in my body are changing because of (cough) getting older, why not my Melatonin levels? Of course.

And guess what. You can buy a Melatonin supplement on Amazon.

In my valid-added-blogging way, 😉 I’ll include this oh-so-brief lesson on Melatonin (which you can skip if you already know this, Jamie, but I did have to look it up, myself!):

Melatonin is a hormone made by your pineal gland, which is a teeny gland in the brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles.


See it? Up there on the right.

Your body clock controls how much melatonin your pineal gland makes. When things are working normally, your melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours. And you wake up, hopefully rested and refreshed, and ready to wrangle the chickens and chase the pig. If he got loose. Which I very much doubt, because you are an excellent fence-builder. As am I. 😉

Light affects how much melatonin your body produces. During the shorter days of our winter months here in this part of the country anyway, your body may actually produce melatonin earlier or later in the day than usual. This can lead to symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or winter depression. Other things can monkey with our normal melatonin levels, too: sitting in front of a computer or t.v. screen in the late evening hours, for example. Lack of fresh air and exercise, too.


It’s in my Cart. 🙂

So, who knows, Gentle Reader? Maybe you need to read Grit to Great, and maybe you need to take Melatonin. Or, like me, maybe you need to do both.

I love ya, I do. And I hope today is a frabyous day for you.

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy. –Lewis Carroll
(hopefully, well-rested) *hugs*
Another lovely photo by Amalia.

Another lovely photo by Amalia.

Are you still here? Well then, could you do me the enormous favor of sharing this post with your friends, if you think they may enjoy it? Thanks so much.

*hugs* again

12 thoughts on “Book Report: “Grit to Great,” raising kids with GRIT; also Melatonin and the Longing for Sleep

  1. rita

    I was visiting with friends just yesterday when the topic of not sleeping well came up and I wondered out loud why this seemed such a universal problem. Was it our age? Some of us were certainly not lacking in exercise. Worry was postulated but I’m not always bothered by thoughts. I think your solution will be given a try. What a timely post! Thanks so much!!

  2. Ann

    I don’t know why, but I have found it helpful to move to the couch, when I wake up and can’t sleep in bed. It seems like I can drift off right away after moving.

  3. Jillian

    It’s amazing how much we think alike. I have not had the pleasure of the book, on my list now, but I do wonder where today’s work ethic is? So many won’t even try because they could fail. Failing is half of the learning!
    Fo sleep though, I’ve started adding a magnesium foot soak in the evening a few times a week. Most of our foods these days have less magnesium than in the past. You might try that.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’ll try anything, Jillian (well–almost!). Can you share with me where you get the magnesium for your foot soaks? Maybe a bath in magnesium is what I need?

  4. Chef William

    Interesting as always and a book I would read if it were not that I am already buried in books to read and my hard work days have become somewhat limited as I am aging. I do enjoy a good days work but not as hard as in the past. I am outside a good deal of the day and get the required sunlight here in Mexico.
    As for the Melatonin Supplement, my wife tried it a few years back but when we read a Mayo clinic article in which it advised that people taking blood thinners (that’s half the country) should not take it, she stopped. Dr. Micheal Breus also has an article in which he states that the correct dosage, to be effective is .03 – 1.0 mg. but most commercial supplements are from 3 to 10 times higher. So we do other things such as, yes you guessed it, working hard, and my wife always gets a good nights sleep……as long as she does not drink coffee after about 4 p.m. (which she sometimes forgets it there is a nice slice of fresh baked pie nearby.)

  5. Nathana Clay (

    Good information! People used to always tell me that I was smart in high school and college. But I really wasn’t. I just worked hard. 🙂 But, now that I am in a new season of life, I am relearning what hard work means, and what it looks like. I am also trying to navigate parenthood. I feel like I get stuck between the “you can’t love your kids too much” and “don’t spoil your kids, train them!” approaches. I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle. Right now, our lack of sleep is due to our daughter. I suppose it would be better if we gave in and let her co-sleep all the time with us . . . The big issue is her hatred of the crib. She will sleep all night in her car seat, but I have seen articles recently claiming that is not safe . . . And I get confounded by the is it cruel to let them cry-it-out or is it healthy. Argh! I may look into the book you mentioned. I have been struggling with productivity partly due to having a baby and partly due to feeling unorganized and not sure where to begin. It seems like I can find a million excuses, but part of hustling toward success is not letting excuses hold you back, right?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Nathana, please don’t be too hard on yourself, productivity-wise, when you have a baby. I always felt it was more important to have a happy baby, and to not be too pressed or stressed to really enjoy my babies, than to get lots done when I had littles. Also. I never was able to get up early (like I do now) when I had littles. I was just too tired, and I probably needed the sleep much more than I needed to get up and “get things done.” As far as co-sleeping goes: it’s a personal family matter (natch) but our littles slept with us until they were 2+, usually, and weaned. I was too lazy to get up and walk to another room in the middle of the night, and we all slept better if they just slept with us. It worked well for us. I never could stand to hear a baby cry, and still can’t. But this is a highly-charged emotional issue, and I know that every family needs to figure out what works best for them! In any case, don’t let your desire (here is your unasked-for advice, from “an older mother”) to “be successful” rob you of the joy of having a baby in the house. Trust me. It goes by too quickly, and then you’d trade nearly anything to have a few more hours just to hold that baby again. You’re doing the most important thing right now. Nothing else compares, honestly. My 2c worth.

  6. Bethany L.

    Yowza, this is a convicting post. It applies to so many areas of my life right now. Saia and I listened to two Ralph Moody books on the way down to Dallas, and I was convicted (again) of how hard they all worked even when they were little kids! It is a lot easier to dream about things then to work hard and accomplish them. Thanks for the reminder, Mom! You are such a hard worker. 🙂

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Well. My parents taught me right (sigh) although I suspect I wasn’t that great of a worker when I was a kid, sweetie. 🙁 I remember Mom kinda putting up with our “help” until she couldn’t any more, then shooing us outside.

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