Grit – Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success
“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is another”- A. Duckworth
I have read this book cover to cover about three times and I am on my fourth time. As a reader, I am aware that how a book impacts you depends on your state of mind as you read. This book had so much impact on my life because I read it just when I needed it. I was facing some dilemma and lack of clarity about what I was doing with my life career-wise and it answered just what I needed at that moment.
Exploring careers when young
Angela Duckworth, a psychologist, had gone through different careers in her twenties, just like I did. She went from running a non-profit to neuroscience, to management consulting, to teaching and later, to psychology. I had gone through the same. I had from office administration to internet marketing, to management, teaching and then to writing. I needed to narrow down my focus since sometimes being multi-talented can lead to overspreading yourself across different careers. Reading this gave me a boost of confidence that it was alright to make career shifts when convenient.
Don’t get distracted by talent
The most important lesson however that Duckworth teaches here is how much we get distracted by talent. Many tend to feel that since they are talented, they don’t have to work so hard. This book emphasizes that talent enough is not everything. First, you have to show up. Showing up means that if you say you are a writer, go ahead and write. If you want to be a tennis player, go ahead and play tennis. And this is not just for a day or two, play tennis and make it your prime interest.
“80% of success is showing up”- Woody Allen
If you grew up believing you were smart and being told you’re smart all the time, you kind of believed that the way would pave itself for you. Somehow you would find a way around, right? After all, you’re a smart person, and other people will realize that. I thought the same. Sadly, I was in this school of thought for the longest time. I thought that just because you are smart; you didn’t have to make so much effort. Other people, that were not so smart, had to make the effort. Wasn’t I wrong! I read this later in Mindset, by Carol Dweck.
Effort counts twice
“Focus on talent distracts us from something that is at least as important, and that is effort”- Angela Duckworth.
You can imagine my surprise when I read Duckworth’s insistence that a lot of people are distracted by talent, and effort is what counts. All the success stories that we read about didn’t get to the top on talent alone and most importantly, they didn’t stay at the top based on talent alone. Sure, Serena Williams is great with that tennis racket, and Tiger woods is a wizard with that golf club. However, they didn’t make it to the top by simply being great with their tool of work. They worked really hard to get to the top. It took them a lot of effort to stay there, and their skill is a combination of both skill and effort. Reliance on talent alone can get you to the top, but it is a combination of talent and effort that gives you the skill. Further, it is a combination of skill and effort that leads to achievement.
Duckworth comes up with these two formulae;
Talent x effort= Skill
Skill x effort = achievement
As you can see, effort counts twice.
What makes up effort?
Effort is as a result of endurance. It comes from constant practice perfecting a skill until it becomes an achievement. This is where Duckworth draws in the word GRIT. She says grit is a combination of passion and perseverance.
“To do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself…… in doing something over and over again, something that was never natural comes second in nature….. the capacity to do something diligently doesn’t come overnight”- John Irving in GRIT.
Interest leads to passion
As the title states, this book talks about passion and persistence contribute to grit. This means for you to develop grit, you should be working on something you are interested in. It’s this kind of interest that leads to passion. Passion means that you cannot be gritty about something that you are not interested about. Interest, therefore, combines with talent. For example, I cannot decide today that I am going to become a golf champion if I am not interested in golfing at all. No matter how much effort I put into golfing, if I have zero interest in it, hence zero passion in it, I cannot be gritty. I will not make it.
I have seen individuals force themselves on interest simply because that area is lucrative. I have made a similar mistake in the past. I created a website in a niche that I knew was in demand but I didn’t enjoy writing in it even for a minute. Eventually, I had to abandon it. All the same, the lesson learnt here is that sometimes it takes experimenting with different interests to as to see which one will stick. You never know what really works for you until you try.
“One of the huge mistakes that people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves”- Jeff Bezos
Interest without persistent is not grit
Another of the important lessons I learned from this book is how much persistence and perseverance is needed for goal achievement. I must admit, my persistence is lacking. I am very great at moving on and if something is not working for me, is simply drop it and move on. While you shouldn’t stick in situations that are not good for you, sometimes it is the sticking around that helps you achieve your goal. So her insistence is that staying on a goal for a long time is what leads to achievement. This echoes Malcolm Gladwell’s opinion in Outliers: The story of success that a person has to spend 10,000 hours working on a skill to master it.
“Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time.”- Angela Duckworth.
Persistence, therefore, involves working on something over and over again until you become good at it. It shows that practice makes perfect and that repetition is the mother of skill. If it is something that requires someone to recognize your efforts, you need to take as much rejection as possible.
Angela Duckworth says that in life, 9 out of 10 things don’t work. This means that you should produce more until you make that one piece that works. This is a reflection of what Psychologist Adam Grant says in his book Originals: How non-conformists change the world, which I have summarized as well, that you need to produce more of your content since you don’t know which of your work will succeed. He gives an example that Albert Einstein wrote a lot of other papers but it’s only a couple that he is known for.
Persistence then means practice as well. Duckworth insists that practice should not be just for the sake of practice. She borrows from Anders Ericsson’s about deliberate practice. This is having the motivation and discipline to practice even when you feel you can’t. It is practicing with a goal in mind, making good habits, seeking feedback and picking yourself back up after failing. In fact, Duckworth says practice isn’t easy or fun. An athlete does not find it as fun to wake up early every morning to run a distance and practice. He would like to sleep in once in a while. However, through deliberate practice, since he has a goal in mind, he wakes up and gets to it even when it is not fun.
You must be wondering by now, how can I develop grit? The good thing is, grit grows, and Duckworth explains just how you can grow your grit. If you have been distracted by talent, or you feel that you’re not persistent enough and you would like to improve that, then there is some good news for you here. Grit can be developed. You can teach yourself to develop resilience, persist a while longer on a problem, and develop grit in your areas of interest.
You can watch Angela Duckworth’s Ted Talk on Grit Below.
Among the chapters in this book are; showing up, distracted by talent, effort counts twice, how gritty are you, grit grows, parenting for grit, the playing field of grit and a culture of grit. Duckworth also breaks down the study of grit into these sections; Interest, Practice, Purpose and Hope.
My summary about this book, is just that, a summary. There is so much more than you can get from this book and I am recommending it since it changed my perspective by a great angle. I am currently working on my grit, putting in twice the effort in what I do. I have learned that we can parent in such a way that our children develop grit, we grow grit in different areas of our lives and not just in our careers, in our relationships, exercising, and reading habits as well. We can also grow grit in our organizations by developing a culture of grit at the workplace. We can all develop grit.
“Improvise, adapt, overcome”- Green Beret