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The Power of Grit – Setbacks to Success

It is humbling and gratifying that sometimes I have an opportunity to coach and mentor others at an earlier stage in their career. It’s a humbling experience because I sometimes help people who are, candidly speaking, far brighter and more capable than I am. It is gratifying because it is wonderful to know that sometimes the hard-earned lessons, occasional battle scars, and the small glimmer of wisdom I have acquired may help someone else. 

One lesson about an often-underrated quality called ‘Grit’—or resilience, tenacity, perseverance—is incomparably difficult to share.” Whatever you call it, Grit is something you can speak to others about and, hopefully, challenge someone to achieve. But, like the proverbial “horse to water,” you cannot instill this in others; they must choose it for themselves. 

What is Grit?

If you’ve not seen the Ted talk from Angela Duckworth, I recommend it:  In short, Grit is a characteristic often used to describe those who exemplify resilience and a relentless dedication to their goals. But what does it mean to have Grit, and why is it so important?

According to Duckworth, Grit is the marriage of passion and perseverance. It’s about having an enduring interest in your pursuits and persistently working towards them, even when faced with setbacks and failures. This blend of resilience, ambition, focus, and self-control helps individuals keep their eyes on the prize and stay the course.

The value of Grit lies in its power to help us push through challenges and overcome obstacles. Whether acing a critical meeting, thriving in your career, or reaching a long-term goal, Grit is often the driving force behind your success. Grit keeps you focused amongst distractions, persistent when encountering obstacles, and committed over the long haul.

Do you have Grit, and why does it matter?

Professor Duckworth and her team have developed the “Grit scale.” This tool measures the two components of Grit: consistency of interest and perseverance of effort. Take the quiz here to evaluate your Grit: It’s interesting, though I find myself irritated taking it. I think of myself as tough, resilient, and stubbornly persistent, but I also sometimes suffer from the attention span of a Golden Retriever in a yard full of squirrels. That is not Grit!  

In business, entrepreneurship, and leadership, we admire Grit and talk about it. Often our examples, though, come from sports. Stories like Michael Jordan overcoming getting cut from his High School team or Tom Brady being drafted 199th in the NFL draft in 2,000 are Grit legends. Indeed, no one doubts that either athlete personifies Grit. But people from all walks of life, and all levels of society, can show Grit, and the evidence is that this can determine their ultimate success. Anyone who demonstrates a willingness to keep going, despite obstacles and failures can be a testament to the importance of Grit.

Grit Heroes

We all love the great human dramas, the true stories of people who overcome tremendous challenges to succeed. One of my favorites is the true story of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition in 1914. Aiming to cross the Antarctic via the South Pole, before they even reached the continent, their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea and was slowly crushed.

Under Shackleton’s leadership, he managed to keep the 28 men of the expedition alive on the ice for months and then led them on a dangerous and long journey to an uninhabited island where they could survive. He and five of his crew embarked on a 16-day, 800-mile journey across the ice-filled Southern Ocean in a tiny boat. Ultimately he reached a remote whaling station, where he had to cross mountainous terrain to reach help finally. Twenty months after the Endurance was first trapped in the ice, all 28 of his crew were rescued and survived. Unbelievable Grit! 

It’s not just sports or adventure that give us examples of Grit. Misty Copeland, the acclaimed ballet dancer, overcame a late start at Ballet in a family so poor there were periods of homelessness for her and her mom. Never entirely fitting the typical ballet dancer’s mold, she was seen as too muscular. She rose through the ranks, through tenacity, perseverance, and a work ethic that stood out to ultimately make history by becoming the first African American woman to be named principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history.

We all have our Grit heroes, and while we may aspire on some level to be Shackleton, Jordan or Copeland, I am realistic enough to recognize that neither the NBA nor the Ballet is in my future. But that’s not the point, is it? Remember, one definition of Grit is the marriage of passion and perseverance, and just as we all have different passions, we all follow different paths. My Dad is easily the Gritiest person I know. He started loading trucks as a casual laborer just after I was born. He overcame injuries, terrible bosses, and economic turmoil and ultimately retired as a successful terminal manager for a large trucking company. By the way, his passion was never trucking, it was building a good life for his family, and he persevered through everything to make that happen.   That is Grit. 

How do you build Grit?

Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” is a great place to start to understand Grit and how to develop it. Carol Dweck’s research on “growth mindset” – the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others – ties in closely with Grit and is very much worth reading. Martin Seligman has much to say about optimism, resilience, and learned helplessness, and his book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” explores these themes in detail. There are more of course, Paul Tough and Cal Newport, as well as many other areas of thought and culture, from the “growth mindset” of education to the entrepreneurial spirit of startups.

Assuming you want to develop your Grit, here’s what experts say are steps in that process. Remember, Grit is perseverance over the long haul, and building Grit likewise is a marathon, not a sprint. Here are some steps you can take to develop this crucial trait:

  • Interest Exploration: Discover what you’re genuinely passionate about. Your passion will fuel your Grit.
  • Deliberate Practice: Work on your skills, set specific goals, and keep refining your abilities based on feedback.
  • Growth Mindset: Foster a belief that your abilities can grow with effort and view challenges as opportunities for learning.
  • Purpose: Connect your work to a larger purpose. For my Dad, it was simple, provide for his family to the best of his ability. This makes your passion even grittier.
  • Resilience: Learn to manage and learn from setbacks. Resilience is the backbone of Grit.
  • -Self-Control: Develop the ability to set clear goals, avoid potential distractions, and practice delayed gratification.
  • Optimism: Keep a positive outlook, even when you face obstacles.
  • Form the Habit: Turn your efforts into habits. This reduces the need for willpower and makes it easier to keep going.

Bringing this all together, the things we experience in life, setbacks, loss, trauma, disappointments, obstacles, and stumbling blocks, painful as they may be, give us profound opportunities to build resilience and develop Grit. When helping someone else through these things, of course, that is the furthest thing from what they may want to hear, but it is a powerful truth. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to go through many of these painful experiences again, but as character-defining as they are, I cannot imagine being who I am without them. No less a profound thinker than Albert Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” As we are caught up in the daily struggle to reach our goals, recognize the power of Grit in our journeys. #Grit, #Resilience, #Leadership, #ProfessionalDevelopment, #Motivation, #Entrepreneurship, #BusinessStrategy

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