I have always been curious about what makes a person succeed in life. Is success dependent on genetics or one’s upbringing (nature vs. nurture)? Or is the issue more complex and success is a combination of both? Are some people just more gifted with a higher IQ or are naturally more talented compared to others? Does it help to have been born with a silver spoon or to have had a stable upbringing?
If financial security indeed did play a role, then what about those rags to riches type stories? Where despite life’s setbacks, an individual has managed to transform their life into a success? What about stories of individuals who had to endure extreme suffering but still managed to rise above their circumstances where they didn’t just survive but thrived?
Exception Rather than the Norm
The late South African activist and former president Nelson Mandela, for instance, rose to leadership bringing an end to apartheid after having spent 27 years in imprisonment. J.K. Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author known for the Harry Potter series, was once living on the poverty line, raising her child as a single mom. I’m sure there are even some people within your own circles that you can think of who have overcome difficult circumstances. But are these individuals the exception rather than the norm?
The Power of Grit
After many years of studying the psychology of success, psychologist Angela Duckworth came to the conclusion that it is grit and perseverance that allow humans to succeed, not intellect or background. But what exactly is grit?
Passion and Perseverance
Duckworth explains that having grit is to have a commitment to finish what you start. It is “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal”. This means that one must have a desire to constantly improve oneself. To have the ability to survive setbacks and the willingness to undertake repeated sometimes boring or unpleasant practices. This doesn’t mean however, that people with grit don’t experience setbacks or get discouraged like everyone else does. It just means that they are willing to remain hopeful and resilient even when there are setbacks.
“Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and really working hard to make that future a reality. Grit is like living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint”.
– Angela Duckworth
How Does One Develop Grit?
So if it’s grit that helps us succeed in life, how does one develop this? It seems logical, but you can’t get gritty about something you are not interested in. You can’t force yourself into grit if you don’t have any passion for it. This can be a tricky one, because sometimes it takes a few trials and errors before really knowing what you really want to do. That’s ok, you are not alone in this. “Once you have found a deep interest in something”, Duckworth says, “only then, can you do the kind of difficult, effortful and sometimes frustrating practice that truly makes you better”.
Another important aspect, Duckworth discovered, is to find purpose in what you do. This was also a common denominator Duckworth found after having interviewed people in the top of their different fields. They all were driven by something larger than just themselves.
If you are interested to read more on the topic and to take a test to see where you are at on the grit scale click here.