Grit, as defined by Angela Duckworth, in her bestselling book by the same name, is passion and perseverance.
Grit is forged by the combination of the two — a passion for something and the willingness to follow through on the process it takes to become good at that thing.
Here’s how Duckworth describes highly-successful people, based on her research:
1. They were resilient and hardworking.
2. They knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted.
If grit is the key to success, then determination and direction is the key to having grit.
Some the earliest research on high achievement showed the same things with different flavor text, such as a study in 1969 by Francis Galton that indicated “ability” in combination with exceptional “zeal” and “the capacity for hard labor.”
Still, the question of ability is subjective. The two real components of grit are simply passion (zeal) and perseverance (the capacity for hard labor).
Often overlooked by other more popular measures of the highly successful such as cognitive ability and charisma, the critical components to achieving what you want in life is finding something that ignites a fire within you and then sticking with it long enough to become very good.
I have no great quickness of apprehension that is so remarkable in some clever men, my power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited.” – Charles Darwin
Of the two, passion is much more difficult to “do.” For most people, it must be discovered and can change several times over the course of a lifetime. People often confuse their identity with their passion and then stagnate when going through a life changing event, such as the retirement or transition of a professional athlete.
The easiest way to describe the process of finding a passion is to self-reflect. Spend a lot of time thinking about what you like to do and who you like to be.
Ask yourself, “if I never had to work another day in my life, what would I do?”
After some time rediscovering yourself, your passions will come to light. Duckworth notes research that shows people are much more satisfied with their jobs when they do something that fits their personal interests. Your likelihood of becoming world-class increases with your degree of personal interest.
However, most people don’t have a driving life passion or if they do, it’s not something within the realm of doable work. In this instance, passion must be cultivated: it is a little bit discovery, a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.
This is where a love of learning, exploring, and growth become important. You can put yourself in a state where you are constantly cultivating new passions and weaving them together with what you already know and love. This process of discovery is the source of innovation and the driving mechanism of change.
The second part of the grit equation is much more trainable.
This is where we can equate persistence over time and a commitment to consistency with success. High level performance is often just small habits and tiny actions done every day.
A landmark study on the The Mundanity of Excellence concluded that “the most dazzling of human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.”
In essence, extraordinary achievement is a series of ordinary acts done daily.
Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became ‘geniuses’ (as we put it)… they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole. – Frederich Nietzsche
You have to embrace the process. Fall in love with the daily rhythm of work. Take pride in accomplishing a little bit everyday and eventually, you will rise to the top of your industry.
When you have big, audacious goals, then you have to break them down into smaller elements that can be drilled and practiced.
There is an elemental art to figuring out how to do this and almost every expert on the subject recommends some sort of coach, mentor, or role-model.
Even the best in the world were once novices and many of them were guided by someone with more experience that helped them channel their natural inclinations into action, which allowed them to consistently inch towards mastery.
We may be able to ignite our paths, but rarely do we possess the keen insight to make it all the way on our own.
Environment is the crux — it will make us or break us.
Either small environmental differences, or genetic ones, can trigger a virtuous cycle. Either way, the effects are multiplied socially, through culture, because each of us enriches the environment of all of us. – Angela Duckworth
The secret to grit seems simple, passion and perseverance, but the secret to high-achievement is even simpler: environment.
You won’t always get to choose your environment but you can choose the content you consume, who you spend time with, and how you direct your energy everyday.
Still, the only true way to either grit or high-achievement is to spend time reflecting on what inspires you, what matters to you, and what kind of impact you want to make.
This kind of self-discovery will take time and it will include multiple setbacks, failures, and reinvention.
Those exemplars of history were once in the exact place as you or me. They were not special in any way and they did not possess any kind of innate abilities.
Instead, they were gritty, dedicated to the long-term, and masters of the small things.
Check out the Outwork Book Club for more book insights as well as reading lists and book recommendations.
PS- this post was inspired by Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance: