Gritty & Getting Grittier: Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth’s debut book Grit, The Power of Passion & Perseverance was released last week. Professor Duckworth has spent her academic career getting to the bottom of who becomes successful and why, by studying US Marines, rookie teachers whose students excel, and spelling bee winners.

Here is the powerful TedTalk that first created the Grit buzz:

What is Grit? Duckworth states that it is “Passion and Perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is about sticking with your future, for years, and working really really hard to make it a reality. To be Gritty, one must live your life like it is a marathon not a sprint.”

How do we get Grit? Duckworth doesn’t know how we get it. What she does know is that talented people don’t always measure up to their abilities. Duckworth has seen that the best way to get grittier is to adopt a Growth Mindset. You are more likely to persevere when you fail, if you don’t believe that failure is permanent. The pain from the moment of failing will pass. The mantra of “This too shall pass” works.

This week I came across another psychology Professor, this one from Princeton, who recently published his “Failure Resume.” We may all be proud of our perfect resume detailing, in 8 point Helvetica, the sum of all the parts of our achievements. This Professor sets a new achievement bar detailing “Degree programs I did not get into”, “Academic positions and fellowships I did not get”, “Research funding I did not get” among others. He gives us a front-row seat to see up close and personal all the failed attempts in his life. This invites us all to embrace our own failures. And his actions have inspired a following of others now willing to post their failure resumes to #cvoffailures.

I am a big proponent of Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn. In my own life, this has been a daily mantra that motivates me to stay on the edge of my own comfort zone. As an executive coach now working with individuals on how to maximize their potential, this topic is always front and center in my mind. How do we push ourselves to be on the edge, striving for more? How to we harness the learnings from the defeats, the adversity, we face along the way?

I want to share a personal Grit story. I spent 15 years working for Fidelity, as an equity analyst and then a venture capitalist. I often think back to my very first job interview applying to Fidelity, right out out of college, for one of the coveted investment research positions. I had made it through four rounds of competitive interviews into the final round. The odds were crazy, with 1000 applicants vying for 5 coveted positions. It was my dream job, and I was so close to landing it. When the phone call came from the Director of Research, I could tell from the tone in his voice that he was calling to turn me down. I thought…What?!! I felt my face go flush red, my heart literally started pounding in my chest, and the voice inside my head was screaming at me “You are a failure!” However, something else inside me, which I now understand as “my gritty voice,” spoke up with courage to ask for a second chance. I still don’t know how the words came out of my mouth, but I said “Let me come in again, Let me have a second chance to show you why I deserve this job.” I am forever thankful to Rick Spillane. He was the Director of Research at Fidelity, who called me to turn me down, then gave me that 2nd shot to prove myself, and ultimately hired me. So, yes I am gritty. I relish in grittiness.

Here are two lessons learned from my own experience.

  1. In Pursuit of your Grit, silence your own inner saboteur. I could have taken the rejection call as a final no. Instead, I silenced my own inner critique, the part of me telling me to accept the failure, and turned up the volume to Dare Greatly and ask for a second chance.
  2. Along your Grit path, look for the signs of those willing to support you in your quest. I don’t believe Grit is one-sided. I believe it is reciprocal. We can be gritty all we want, but part of what converts this effort into action is the others around us who harness our power. On the other side of the “gritty” person”…there is someone willing to extend that “olive branch” and provides some hope for a way forward.

I can’t wait to read Angela Duckworth’s new book. Yes, we can all strive to get grittier. But, we can also simultaneously look to extend the 5-minute favor, a second chance, or a “helping hand” to those around us in the gritty trenches of life.

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