In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, researcher Angela Duckworth makes a thoroughly persuasive argument that the difference between average folks and elite performers—people who succeed at the highest level of their chosen field—is not what we think it is.
No—It’s not IQ.
No—It’s not talent.
In fact, it’s grit, that makes the difference.
According to Duckworth, more than any other single trait, grit—a ferocious determination, resiliency and capacity for hard work in accomplishing a singular goal—is the best predictor of elite performance, success and well-being over the long term.
Whether she studied West Point cadets, Spelling Bee champions, or salespeople, those with more grit where able to stick-to-it when the going got tough and that, more than anything else, made the difference in their eventual success.
Talent certainly factors into the equation but as Angela points out—“effort counts twice.”
You’re no genius
There’s a wonderfully subversive streak that seems to propel Angela and her ideas forward as she tries to upend the conventional wisdom that talent is tops. She’s fond of telling the story of her Dad who, when she was a little girl, was fond of pointing out, “You know, you’re no genius!” How could he know that the girl who was no genius would grow up to be the highly successful and accomplished winner of the MacArthur Fellowship—also known in some circles as the “Genius Grant.”
She exacted a measure of sweet revenge as she basked in the glory of her accomplishment and later, when her book was complete, made sure to read every last word of it to her Dad, by then stricken with Parkinson’s Disease.
She knows her Dad is proud of her, but in the preface of the book she acknowledges a longing to tell him how she felt as a little girl and how she feels now, as a grit paragon and expert on the subject:
Dad, you say I’m no genius. I won’t argue with that. You know plenty of people who are smarter than I am. But let me tell you something. I’m going to grow up to love my work as much as you love yours. I won’t just have a job. I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.
In the long-run, Dad, grit may matter more than talent.
No more excuses
All the research that Duckworth and other psychologists are conducting is making it increasingly clear that human ability and potential is not fixed at birth, or forged in the crucible of our early years. We can, in fact, grow, develop and mold our personalities, intelligence, and even our talents, all throughout life. We are learning the our brains are amazingly plastic and that each of us is capable of being and doing way more than we might have ever thought possible.
This is tremendously exciting because it means we can discard centuries-old notions that our potential is severely constrained and that you either have the gift, or you don’t. Sure, we all have limits but for the vast majority of people our limiting beliefs about what is possible have kept us from approaching even the remotest vicinity of those boundaries.
You are capable of more than you ever dreamed!
Redefining genius as a choice
This is an exciting idea, but also a scary one, for this removes all the usual excuses for not trying, or trying and giving up.
It is clear that through passion, perseverance and practice, you can become very good at just about anything that interests you.
So knowing that, what will you do?
At the very least, Angela’s work forces us to see success and elite performance for what it is—a battle of grit.
When you see high achievement or admire champions in any human endeavor you can be sure that what you’re seeing are not necessarily the most talented in their field. There may, in fact, be people with more talent who don’t manage to rise to highest level. Instead, what you’re seeing when you admire a champion is a person with incredible grit. That’s because the road to the top is rough, steep and treacherous and getting to your destination will demand more than mere talent. The effort required to overcome inevitable obstacles will require a deep reserve of grit and Angela reassures us that we can acquire it.
And she shows us how in her new book, which she concludes with the following notion:
If you define genius as being able to accomplish great things in life without effort, then I’m no genius [and neither are you].
But if, instead, you define genius as working toward excellence, ceaselessly, with every element of your being—then, in fact, my dad is a genius, and so am I, and if you’re willing, so are you.
I urge you to go out and get this book. Then, devour it.