A Little Grit

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“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  – Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is not only observing how success comes from failure…he’s describing “Grit.”

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, studied several categories of people who persevered through difficulties and succeeded, including West Point cadets. She found that the characteristic of “grit” was much more important than factors like intelligence or even natural talent. She finds that “gritty people” have four traits: Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope.


This means becoming interested in something and developing it into a passion, so that even after years of doing it, you still find it interesting.  Be careful of falling into the trap of just “following your passion.” If your passion is binge-watching Netflix series, you’re not likely to be successful…find something worthwhile that interests you and develop the passion. Dr. Duckworth suggest that to keep from getting bored, gritty people substitute “nuance” for “novelty”—they see little ways to tweak what they are passionate about to make it as close to perfect as possible.


Practice for gritty people means “Deliberate practice.” Anders Ericsson, author of Peak, says deliberate practice is using good feedback to focus on specific techniques that will lead to real improvement. In other words, deliberate practice fully engages the mind and the body, and pushes to the limit. You may have heard of the “10-year, 10,000 hour” rule, made well-known by author Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers. He contends that it takes 10,000 hours of effortful practice, which would take someone about 10 years, to really master a craft to a top level.


Finding a purpose means connecting the work that you’re passionate about to other people—teammates, workmates, family, friends, local society, your nation. Rarely do things done for purely selfish motives sustain lifelong grittiness. It’s contribution to causes greater than ourselves that make effort sustainable.


According to Dr. Duckworth, things will inevitably discourage or deter even gritty people. Hope is required to keep at something even when obstacles get in the way…successful people are optimistic and proactive, with the attitude that their efforts make a difference.

If you’d like to see how gritty you are, take Dr. Duckworth’s 12-question grittiness test.

You can see Angela’s TED talk at Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  (It’s been viewed over 10.3 million times).

She also has an interesting interview on one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics Radio,

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