In the perpetual search for what leads to success, to achievement, Angela Duckworth has given us something to chew on.
As Angela describes, she left a demanding job as a management consultant to take on an even more demanding one – as a math teacher in the public school system. As a teacher, she wondered why some students were successful and others were not. What made the difference? Was it talent? IQ? Socio-economic status? Family life? Opportunity?
Eventually Angela’s curiosity got the best of her and she left her teaching job to study and research this topic. And what did she discover? Angela found that a key predictor of achievement is not talent, not natural ability, not IQ… but grit.
“[N]o matter what the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.”
While no one is saying natural ability or talent doesn’t matter, Angela has found that it matters much less than we think. As she says it, “as much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”
Angela provides a way of thinking about talent, skill, effort, and achievement that goes like this:
Talent X Effort = Skill
Skill X Effort = Achievement
Effort counts twice.
What Angela has done is taken talent off the pedestal. She has taken away its mystique.
When athletes do those superhuman feats in the Olympics, we chalk it up to being exceptionally gifted. We don't see the unfancy, dogged day-in, day-out determination that kept them in the pool, on the bars, or at the track.
Grit is a power. Grit brings our gifts to life and grows them. Grit is the bridge between potential and impact. It is the force that nourishes the proverbial seed and allows it to become the tree. Without grit, gifts go dormant; talents go to sleep. With grit, even lesser ability can become mighty, can make a difference.
Angela's work shows us that success isn't stacked by genetic luck. The playing field is more equal than we realize.
So the question is: what does it take to tap into grit? If we can figure this out, then success is no longer a mere wish. Success is within reach.
Angela concludes her book like this:
"We all face limits - not just in talent, but in opportunity. But more often than we think, our limits are self-imposed... To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight."
Think about your own life. When have you been gritty? When have you persevered? When have you kept with a worthy goal even when it was tough? When have you made a mistake, learned from it, and continued on? When have you met an obstacle and found a way around it, or through it?
What in your life is calling for some grit?
So yes, discover your genius, your talent - but power it with grit. Find what you care about and commit. This is not blind trust. This is the hard, humble work of engaging in the business of life. Learning, practicing, perfecting. Gritty step, by gritty step. Sooner or later, success will be yours.