Monday, August 11, 2008

Got Grit?

You can be the sharpest knife in the drawer, the most well-educated person in your workplace, ambitious, quick-witted and charming -- and a failure.

While many would consider those attributes a recipe for success, the truth is that those who seem to climb the top of the ladder have something that others may lack: Grit.

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all," said Dale Carnegie, the original self-help guru.

If you look up grit in the dictionary, it's defined as "indomitable spirit; pluck." I've thought about that a lot as I've been watching the Olympics. While it's clear those athletes have spent thousands of hours in the gym, in the pool and on the running track to get where they are, there is also something special that makes them reach that point.

It's more than hard work, it's more than training and it's more than a body's DNA. It's grit. If you look at their faces, they seem to be lit within by some internal fire that propels them toward their goal.

How does this apply to the workplace? Well, maybe you're not the most well-trained, the most intelligent, the most well-educated at your company. But if you've got the grit, the persistence needed to overcome setbacks and stay committed to your goal, then that can clearly be a deciding factor in your success.

At the same time, those who are successful often tell me they are passionate about what they do; passion is what keeps them striving toward their goal. While you may not always feel passionate about what you're doing in the beginning, often perseverance will help you develop that passion. You may, in fact, become passionate simply about not giving up -- then realize after a time that you're passionate about achieving your goal.

I recently enrolled my oldest son for college, and his adviser was reviewing his test scores. "Solid scores," she said. "Not fantastic, but solid."

Both my son and I squirmed in our seats. Was she judging him as not capable? Her next words surprised me.

"These scores are a good thing," she said. "We've found that those will really high test scores in high school have the highest failure rate in college. The problem seems to be that it's been fairly easy for those kids until now. The first time something goes wrong, they don't know how to cope. They don't know how to work hard and overcome obstacles."

While we live in a time of instant messaging, 24/7 news and an emphasis on speed, it may be more important than ever that if we're going to succeed we don't need to cast aside a goal at the first sign of trouble, but instead develop our perseverance, our grit and determination to keep at it when others would give up.

"Always bear in mind," Abraham Lincoln said, "That your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."

Does the workplace have enough people with grit these days? Why or why not?


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Anonymous said...

Hi Anita!

Gee, this is a terrific post and great tie in to the Olympics. Also seems to connect well with your post about being number two. Just last night, I saw a coach say of the USA women’s gymnastics team that finishing behind the Chinese is good as they do not have the same pressure as they enter the next phase of competition. Of course, this is probably where grit kicks in!

The lesson for careers: even momentary setbacks can be overcome with passion and determination!

Anita said...

Not to be morbid, but I'm reminded of a story I read where a psychologist was explaining the rise of teen suicide: When you're young, she said, you haven't experienced enough of life to know that there are peaks and valleys. The kids who kill themselves think that there are only valleys. They think that's all there is and they don't know that there's a peak ahead -- that just by sticking with it, they will come out the other side.

I think you're right...we can survive setbacks, if only we give ourselves the chance to experience them.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anita! I really loved this post because I can recall stories from many years ago how some under-performing teenagers would be "typecast" by teachers and even some peers that the teens would be limited in what they would do in their adult lives. Many just don't find a passion by the time they're ready to go to college, some even after they receive their degrees.

Never, ever count out people who have experienced more failures than successes, no matter what stage he or she is at in life.

Best of luck to your son!

Anonymous said...

My daughter skated through school and I was worried about this same thing. So I planned my strategy, and starting in about the fifth grade, each year I would say,

Me: “So, all your classes seem to be pretty easy this year.”
Her: “Yep, no problem at all.”
Me: (sigh)
Her: “WHAT?!”
Me: “Well, I’m just afraid that when you DO hit something that doesn’t come to you quite as easily, that you may not know how to handle it. You might, you know, give up on it and not do very well.”

She never replied, but I could see the gleam in her eye to prove Mom wrong. When she did hit the wall the first time I didn’t know about it until it was over and she told me she had remembered what I said and was determined to tough it out.

I was almost as proud of her as I was when I heard her admonish a friend with the only fashion advice I had ever given her: don’t wear anything that is wider than it is long. :0

Anita said...

I'm reminded of one of my classmates -- Garth Brooks. Garth's band in college was SO bad, he was fired several times, including by a few frat houses where he played at various parties. If you look at how many times he failed before achieving success, you can't help but see the pure grit and determination he used.
Thanks for posting.

Anita said...

Sounds like you raised a very smart cookie! What a gift you've given her -- something she can use her whole life. Her bosses will be thanking you one day.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your post (and the general air of goodness flowing from all your posts, though the message may be considered worthy of some commendation). You have to learn to give up. Why waste your time going after stuff that may not even be worth it? Relax, be merry and accept everyone else's (and your own) mediocrity.

Remember, this is a mediocre world. There is no place for creativity. Do your job, give up when you have to, and accept. Die if you can (or continue to live until you do). Learn to be shrewd, calculating, dispassionate and pragmatic (there is no place for passion at the workplace).

The one goal in life should be to combat boredom; excellence and perseverance come much lower in the ladder.

Anita said...

Dear crashing-xombie,
I'm going to assume you meant this to be a funny and somewhat sarcastic response (which I appreciate, believe me), so consider me laughing. Otherwise, I would feel very bad for you and say that if anyone needs to be reading this blog, it's you.