So, Readers, are we clear on what grit is? I’ve heard from a lot of people—meaning at least three—who want to know how to get grit. Well, before we try to accumulate it, we’d better define it.
Grit is what you think it is: tenacity. But this new definition of grit adds the element of passion. So grit is perseverance in pursuit of something of intrinsic interest to you over a long period. That last bit about persevering for a long time is key. It’s not that you have to be single-minded or workaholic in this pursuit; however, your interest must remain over months, years, even a lifetime. That’s grit.
Now, why is it important? “This book has been about the power of grit to help you achieve your potential,” says Duckworth in her conclusion. That’s why. I want to achieve my potential. I sure do. And I don’t think I have, yet. And there are a lot of people out there who want to, who haven’t yet.
Next, we need to know that grit grows. It's not a fixed entity. Duckworth says so. Grit grows in two ways, “inside out” and “outside in.” Duckworth draws her conclusions from anecdotal evidence, interviews of people who “epitomize the qualities of passion and perseverance.” So take it for what it’s worth. She concludes there are four aids in developing grit inside-out.
Interest - She interchanges this term with passion, and she seems to mean intrinsic motivation.
Practice - This is a form of perseverance that involves “challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery.” This sounds a lot like Carol Dweck’s growth mindset at work. The growth mindset is one that believes improvement by practice is possible. And it's about goal-setting. I've talked about this before. A healthy goal is one that is challenging by not too hard, something that makes you push yourself to achieve.
Purpose—Having a sense that what you’re doing is “both personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the well-being of others.” Now, I struggle with this one. I think many artists might. How useful or important to others is any creative work? It takes an internal mastery of self-doubt to see that creative endeavors have utility beyond the expression of one individual’s ideas. For me, self-doubt often overshadows that knowledge. It’s easier to be part of a sanctioned socially useful structure, such as teaching or public service, than to feel like you’re “ringing your own bell” by writing a novel, or, just as an example, a book about your struggles to find success. However, when self-doubt doesn't blot out everything else, I can see that others may find my thoughts useful. Perhaps as a cautionary tale. Perhaps as comfort. Smallest perhaps: as inspiration.
Hope—This is another kind of perseverance, the ability to keep going “even when things are difficult, even when we have doubts.” So many things have been written about hope. It's a thing with feathers. It's eternally springy. It's a paradox (ever waiting, ever expecting, sadly never actually attaining). It's optimism.
Duckworth calls these internal grit growers assets. She owns her debt to Carol Dweck in the book, and she builds on it here by telling us that these internal assets are not fixed. Like intelligence, compassion, and maturity, they are qualities that can develop over time.
What about the outside-in approach to growing grit? (“Growing grit”—What an annoying phrase). I hear you asking, Readers. Well, in short, it’s about developing those aforementioned assets within a gritty culture and with the help of others.
I’m liking this, because it aligns with what I’ve discovered about success, that it depends in part on input from like-minded others. Coaches, parents, and peers all help nurture, inspire, and challenge us in these areas.
Does constant growth and effort seem exhausting? Do you think you would rather take a nap? Would you prefer to watch all nine seasons of The Office on Netflix? Well, take heart, because according to Duckworth, gritty people have more life satisfaction. So it’s worth it to develop those assets. And remember, persisting with passion—a.k.a. being gritty—does not preclude bouts of binge-watching TV. Not that Duckworth says so, but I extrapolate from the evidence.
Now, how exactly to grow grit? How do you really build those assets? Tune in next time, when I talk about Caroline Adams Miller’s book Getting Grit, in which she takes all this info to the next stage and talks specifically about how to become gritty.