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Why “Grit” Is The Real Key To Success

If You Don't Have It, You Need To Find It

*Inspired by and borrowed in parts from Drive - by Daniel Pink.

Each summer, about twelve hundred young American men and women arrive at the United States Military Academy at West Point to begin four years of study. But before any of them sees a classroom, they go through seven weeks of Cadet Basic Training. By the time the summer ends, 1 in 20 of these talented, dedicated young adults will drop out.

A group of researchers wanted to understand why some students continued on the road toward military mastery and the others got off at the first exit. Was it physical strength and athleticism? Intellect? Leadership ability? Well-roundedness?

None of the above.

The best predictor of success, the researchers found, was the cadets’ ratings on a non-cognitive, non-physical trait knows as “Grit.”

In her excellent TED Talk on this very research, Angela Duckworth describes Grit as,

“…perseverance and passion for long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out. Not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

Grit is that special force that gets you down in the dirt. Grit is toil. Grit is the slow burn, over time, that nearly kills you, and yet, it’s the best indicator for success. So much so, that researchers found in every field, Grit was just as important as talent.

How about that?!

For college students, it was grittiness, rather than IQ or standardized test scores that was the most accurate predictor of college grades.

Grit is inspiring.

Because Grit is such a powerful indicator for success, it becomes the life-blood of some of the world’s greatest stories.

Grit is the homeless teen in Georgia who becomes valedictorian. Grit is the impoverished kids in Paraguay who perform with recycled orchestra instruments from landfills. Grit is Rocky Balboa, the Mighty Ducks, and JK Rowling when Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before being published.

Grit is practical.

If you didn’t know, I’m a massive soccer fan. Soccer is an acquired taste like beer or coffee – or baseball. While it can be thrilling and dramatic, there are times where, and I hate to admit it, it can be kind of boring. The thing I’ve learned as I’ve really begun to study the game is a key difference between good teams and great teams.

Good teams win when they play well. Great teams “grind out wins” when they’re playing poorly. It’s not pretty, there are few fireworks, but they defend well, they keep the ball, and they toil their way to a 1-0 or 2-1 victory. This is the short-term sports version of Grit. It’s not inspiring, but it works.

Grit is the key.

While talent is helpful, Grit is the X factor to long-term success. If you don’t have it, you need to find it. If you already have it, don’t waste it on something stupid.

Despite the advancements in neuroscience and biotechnology, Grit is remarkably hard to nail down. Some say you have to experience great adversity to get it. Others just seem to be born with it. At this point in time, there is no formula for how to harness and cultivate Grit.

I believe the science comes up short on Grit because it is intensely personal and subjective.

Grit is something deep within you. It’s the soul of your work that only you can access.

This brings us to today – to you and your work and your deepest purpose. How can you develop Grit? How have you already done so? You’ll see my personal answer in the comment section below. I’d love to hear yours.

- JZ


Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us - Daniel Pink

Photo Credit US Army, Flickr Creative Commons

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