Grit - The Power of Passion and Perseverance - Your key to Success
What is Grit? For most of us it means courage and resolve bundled with strength of character. I love this quote from Calvin Coolidge “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
This word has now become commonplace thanks to Angela Duckworth and she became famous with her TED talk on the same subject. Her credentials are excellent and she is a MacArthur “genius” grant winner, researcher, and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I happened to read this wonderfully researched book which should serve as an inspiration to all of us that anything is possible if we have grit.
She starts the book by saying that during her childhood she was told by her dad that she was not a genius. After winning the award she thought what her dad said about her was true but you can achieve a lot through sheer grit. Some examples are drawn from West Point and the spelling bee contests. The main thread of all this research is the winners are the ones who stay till the end and they don’t have higher SAT scores or IQ but they have enormous resilience and perseverance. An example provided is Chia-Jung Tsay whose musical accomplishments are plenty and she said “I loved music so much that I used to practice four to six hours per day.”
The formula the author provides is talent x effort = skill and skill x effort = achievement. An excellent example provided is John Irving who has written many bestselling novels. However he is not a natural writer and he rewrites draft after draft before it comes through. He got a C- in high school and his SAT verbal score was 475 out of 800. He was also a dyslexic. This example shows that it is not the cards we are dealt but how we play with the cards that determine where we end up and whether we have the fortitude to be in it for the long-haul.
Will Smith is also sighted as an example here for his sickening work ethic. I love these quotes from him which are awe inspiring. “I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation. And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic. You know, while the other guy's sleeping? I'm working. The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I'm not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, and you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there's two things: You're getting off first, or I'm going to die. It's really that simple, right? You’re not going to out-work me."
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says you should have a life philosophy. His is to do things better than they have ever been done before. Another example is Warren Buffet who says write 25 goals, select top 5 from that list, discard the remaining 20 and focus only on the top 5 goals.
There are four psychological assets the author identifies with respect to grit. They are
Interest – It is obvious that only if you have an undying interest you can put the hours of practice required and also the perseverance required to stay the long course.
Capacity to practice – Obviously with all the research on peak performance it has been well established that you have to engage in deliberate practice. This involves getting out of comfort zone, setting stretch goals, try to reach those with effort, get feedback and engage in constant repetition. Benjamin Franklin engaged in this when he read and reread essays from the Spectator magazine to perfect his art of writing. No one is a born natural.
Purpose – Obviously if you find the larger purpose in everything you do it will help you stay the course.
Hope - Finally you need to hope that you will succeed to sustain yourself for a long time.
The question of passion is also discussed and it was interesting to read that Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines played many sports in childhood before landing on swimming as the one he can be best at. Julia child wanted to be a novelist as a child before she became the world famous chef. Bottom line is your childhood passions may not be what make you famous or competent. The importance of daily rituals that artists have is also discussed. For example Maya Angelou used to get up, have breakfast and then by seven she delivers herself to a tiny meal hotel room where she writes with no distractions till 2 in the afternoon.
The purpose of a growth mindset is discussed and of course this is the mindset where you see yourself capable of learning new things and not limited in any way. The growth mindset leads to optimistic ways of explaining adversity which leads to perseverance and seeking out new challenges which makes you stronger.
How does grit apply to parenting? The basic thesis is you have to be demanding with your children while at the same time being supportive. Of course if your kids need to become exceptional then you do need to push them but when they fail you need to be supportive. Another interesting thing is engaging in extracurricular activities boosts grit. Don’t over-schedule your kids but have them engage in at least one or two activities outside school.
I like what the author says she does to develop grit in her family. Here they are
1. Do one hard thing daily
2. You can quit meaning lets day you signed up for 12 piano lessons. Don’t quit mid-way but if after 12 lessons you don’t like it then you can quit.
3. Pick your hard thing. Obviously only when you pick something for yourself you will be in it for the long haul.
Finally the author shows the example of Ta-Nehisi Coates as a paragon of grit. His persistence in writing shines through with this quote “It’s as though you have a certain music in your head, and trying to get that music out on the page is absolute hell, But what you have to do is give yourself a day, go back, revise, over and over and over again. I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that's the reason why more people don't write.”
This is a wonderfully researched book with excellent examples. The main thing to remember is we all can develop grit and if we do there is a shot at greatness. This is the only viable means to succeed in a globally competitive environment.
Of course the finest example of perseverance is Abraham Lincoln. Whenever I read this it really inspires me. He lost his job in 1832. He failed in business in 1833. He was elected to legislature in 1834. His sweetheart died in 1835. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836. He was defeated for speaker in 1838. He was defeated for nomination for congress in 1843. He was elected to congress in 1846. He lost his renomination for congress in 1848. Lincoln was defeated for the senate in 1854. He was defeated for the nomination for vice president of the United States in 1856. He was again defeated for senate in 1858. Finally he was elected as President of the United States in 1860. This is a truly remarkable example of perseverance.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization