This site gives a decent definition and examples of its meaning. What I find most striking about this in the modern sense is how accurate it relates to how we feel about our working lives. I realize that there are many people out there who are overworked and hate their jobs, and I understand how oppressive that can feel. I am, however, most interested in people who struggle with feeling bored or underutilized in their work and in their personal life. In my experience, people in this situation often feel that they are “missing” something or feel empty. They are lacking “grist” in their life, those projects or problems that stirs our creativity, excites our brains and teaches us something new about ourselves. In short, “grist” is the stuff that makes us feel like we are becoming more fully ourselves in our work and in our personal lives.
So, what is it exactly?
Each person has to answer this for him/herself. For a top ranked surgeon, the “grist” might be highly complicated and delicate surgery, requiring great endurance and tremendous concentration over many hours. For a project manager it might mean a job that requires keeping many facets of a large and expensive project in the air at the same time, all the while staying attentive to the myriad endless needs of their clients. To a stay-at-home parent, it might be home schooling, parenting research and a full brood of children.
Whatever the “grist” is for us, we need to make sure that we are seeking it out. Note: this is far different from the ego-driven desire to be the “best” at something. That is an exhaustive path that can lead to burnout, resentment and fear (of losing it all). When we are feeding our lives with projects and obstacles that help us to grow and use our full potential, then we are naturally happier and more at peace. We tend to think less about work as a place that steals time and more as a place where we discover our outer boundaries.
A mill is designed to crush grain. Without the grist, it doesn’t have a purpose (other than being a quaint ornament in New England). If we think of our passions and interests as being a guide, then we can begin to seek out those jobs and those moments when we can more fully express ourselves and discover the outer boundaries of our potential.
Find your grist, find your purpose and find yourself.