People accomplish more when they don’t rely on innate talent but rather on hard work, passion, and perseverance.
Many of us are sort of satisfied being dissatisfied. Rather than keep pushing to become the best we can, we accept that this is as good as we will ever get and just give up on trying to be better. We don’t persevere, we are not gritty enough to go beyond what we believe is possible. We find excuses like, “I don’t have a talent for this. I tried, and it didn’t work. It’s not worth it. I just can’t.”
Many of the people who achieve success in life are not the talented ones, but those who struggle but keep on going. Gifted children often learn that they don’t need to try particularly hard to do well in school, so they never build the habit of working hard and not giving up. They rely on their talent. However, once the talent runs out, they may be often faced with the reality of not being good enough and not having the perseverance to get better.
Kids who struggle, with the right support, are more likely to become more resilient and more willing to put in the effort to get better. They learn that nothing in life is free and that they have to work hard to be successful. This is a trait that is very handy later on in life. When their talent runs out, they double down and get over the bumps by working hard and persevering.
Most of us are biased for talented ones. Even though we may not admit it out loud, we subconsciously believe that people who are “natural” at something are somehow superior to those who had to work hard to accomplish the same. We prefer talented people over those who had to work hard for the same results. We emphasize and focus on talent. That means we tend to forget all the other traits and aspects of becoming successful.
Effort beats talent
Daniel F. Chambliss who completed a study of competitive swimmers postulates that exceptional performance is a confluence of many small skills and activities which have been drilled into the habit. You don’t need to be exceptionally talented to perform at exceptional level. You just need to do the right small things, correctly, consistently, and with perseverance to produce excellence.
Effort and not talent is what leads to excellence. Angela Duckworth in Grit has this to say about talent, “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.”
Since my childhood, I was led to believe that hard work is important. First work, then play. It was something that I took with me to life. You may be smarter than me, you may be more talented than me, you may be better connected or have more resources. But I will outwork you.
How hard I work is the one thing that is entirely under my control. That is the one thing where I know if I invest I will get results. If I don’t work hard enough and as a result won’t achieve desired results, it is only me to blame. And if I do achieve the results after giving it the effort, I feel great satisfaction that I accomplished something hard, something that didn’t come easily to me.
I have a hard time starting, but once I get kicked into action, I will build the right routine, and I will give it all I have to finish.
Effort is everything. Talent by itself, of course, helps especially at the beginning, but it is not a prerequisite. You need skill. You develop skills by taking your talent and putting in the effort to develop it, to become better and better.
Don’t stop there. Only because you can do something, you have the skills, it doesn’t mean that you will actually use it. Once again, you need to add effort one more time. Only by taking the skill you developed and combining with effort to get things done you achieve results. That is why effort and hard work are so critical. You need them both to build your skills and to produce results.
Angela Duckworth claims there are four assets that gritty people can tap into. It is interest in the activity, willingness to practice consistently, seeing a purpose of the endeavor, and having hope and optimism that you can succeed. All these things can be learned and developed. You can become more gritty if you really want to.
So how do gritty people become gritty? By effort itself? How do they motivate themselves to even put in the effort? Angela Duckworth mentions that grit is composed of two pieces, passion, and perseverance.
Perseverance is rather obvious. But what about passion? People talk about being passionate about something. But how many truly are? We often like doing some things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are passionate about them. Passion is about priorities, almost obsessive focus, and consistent execution.
The encouragement of many experts and life coaches to follow your passion is often counterproductive. What is worse it is meaningless advice as many people simply don’t know what their passion is, or they even don’t have one.
You may say you are passionate about helping others, but only when you wake up every day and the first thing on your mind is how you can help others today, only when you approach all the things you do with this in mind, only when you prioritize helping others over helping yourself you can say you are genuinely passionate about it. Passion and perseverance are linked together.
Passionate and gritty people need to have their priorities straight. They can focus on their core goals with obsessive focus. Duckworth tells a story of Warren Buffett coaching his pilot on career goals. Buffett takes him through three step approach. First, write down twenty-five career goals. Then select the top five you consider the highest priority. And lastly look at the remaining twenty and do everything in your power to avoid them. They are the most obvious and easy to succumb to distractions from your top five. This exercise is a great thing to focus on what truly matters.
This is one of the most difficult and mind-bending exercises I have ever done when thinking about my own career. It sounds easy and ridiculous at the beginning, but once you think deeply about it, you may be surprised by the stuff you will discover about yourself. Especially in the cutting phase. I strongly suggest you give it half an hour to go through it.
Passion is great unless you become unhealthily obsessed with your one thing. The same goes for perseverance. Perseverance is essential but also a bit dangerous. You need to learn when enough is enough and when persevering in something prevents you to focus on something else that may help you to get to your big goal faster.
Quitting is acceptable
Sometimes your high priority goal has different ways how it can be achieved. If one way doesn’t work, you should feel free to switch and try something else rather than keep trying something that doesn’t lead to the desired results. In the hierarchy of goals and tasks, the closer you get to the top, to the ultimate goal, the more stubborn and persevering you should be, but lower in the pyramid, on the task level you should stop when things don’t work out and find another task that will get you closer to your ultimate goal.
Exploration needs to be strategic
For many people who are new on the job market the one thing that prevents them from having a successful career is the fact that they have high expectations, but at the same time, they don’t really know what they want. They don’t have the patience to develop the necessary interests and skills. They jump from a job to a job without any plan, without any strategy. Exploration is good, but it needs to have a clear goal.
If you jump too often, you won’t be able to build the necessary appreciation of the job you have. Only when you dig into details, and you become truly great at what you do you develop appreciation even for things that at first glance looks boring and uninteresting. Real experts can get excited about the smallest of details of their jobs. Something that an outsider would never give a second thought to.
Optimism gives hope
Gritty people are overwhelmingly optimistic. Or the other way around, optimists are more likely to be gritty and persevere than pessimists. Why? Even when faced with the same setback, optimists will look for ideas on how to explain the setback as a temporary or rare event. Something that happened but won’t last and can be worked around or overcome.
Pessimists often see the setbacks as something permanent, something that will always be there to hold them back. They tend to overreact to failures. Optimists would take it in their stride, analyze, learn from them and move on with a firm belief that nothing can hold them back.
It is the hope in a better future, the hope in the goodness of other people, the hope in their ability to improve and do better next time that drives the success of gritty individuals.
Deliberate practice leads to mastery
Kaizen is a Japanese way of continuous improvement. It is a critical part of developing mastery and any new skill. It is a vital way of how gritty people differ from others. They keep continuously improving their skills and are never satisfied, they never get to a plateau. The way to do it is deliberate practice. Anything can be developed by deliberate practice. Even the most complex of activities can be broken down to some basic elements that can be developed one by one.
Duckworth talks about a relation of deliberate practice as defined by Ericsson and by flow as proposed by Csikszentmihalyi. What she concludes is that gritty people experience more flow. The reason is that even though the deliberate practice is planned and often painful experience, for a gritty person it is not as painful as it looks like since they see the purpose of the practice.
Flow is by nature more spontaneous but also more comfortable to achieve if you are good at what you do. Deliberate practice is for preparation, and flow is for actual performance.
Even if the practice is not fun, a gritty person will still persevere and do it, because they know that when they get better, the actual performance will be that more fun.
Duckworth gives a great example of how we unlearn perseverance as we grow. Consider toddlers who are trying to learn to walk. You will see them try and try again, and make one failed attempt after another. They don’t have the skill to stand up and walk yet, but they keep trying. And it doesn’t seem they see it as torture. It is something they see other people to do, something they want to be able to do themselves, so they persevere. They don’t care whether others are laughing at their failed attempts.
This changes as the children get older and start feeling embarrassed when they fail at something. The less supportive environment they are growing in, the more others around them point out all their faults, the less likely they are to keep trying. Failure is not an option as it is too embarrassing. So better not try at all.
Do you have a job or a calling?
People have different ways of looking at their professional life. Some are just looking for a job. A necessary evil that you can endure to be able to pay your bills and survive.
Others look at it as a career. In reality, this is saying that you see your job as a series of roles that lead to other roles. You are an accountant, and the reason you endure it and even excel is to leave that job and become a senior accountant, or a manager.
The third view of professional life is a calling. You have an overreaching purpose in your life, and your work is deeply fulfilling for what it is. It is not about money or promotions, it is about the work itself and your impact on the lives of others.
I always frustrated all my bosses when asked about my career ambitions. I didn’t answer in terms of roles or positions. My go-to answer was that, “I want to build something, learn something, and help others grow.” What that “something” is doesn’t matter.
You could translate my answer that it is important to me to produce some output and leave something behind. It is essential for me to keep learning and growing as an individual. And it is important to me to help others to learn, grow and develop as individuals. It is an answer that talks more about my mindset and life philosophy than actual ambitions.
You don’t need to change the job
What does it all mean? Whether you look at the work, you do as a job, career or calling has nothing to do with the work itself. It is all about attitude. It is all in your head.
Even a garbage collector can look at the work he or she does and say to themselves that their work has meaning. They provide a meaningful service to society. Without them, we would end up living on a heap of trash with our life satisfaction significantly diminished.
This is an important realization. It means that if you feel like your job doesn’t have meaning it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change the job. You just need to find the meaning. You need to change your attitude and get the satisfaction from a purposeful job you deserve.
When talking about purpose and meaning, we are talking about something bigger than us. We are talking that what we do matters to someone else, not only to us. We are making the lives of other people better. This realization can then fuel our quest to become gritty and triumphant in whatever field or career we choose.
What are your thoughts on career development? Do you believe that talent is more important than effort? Are you gritty? How do you develop grit?
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