Few movies can bring me to tears. The way I differentiate between a good movie and an excellent movie, is by its ability to move me emotionally. If a movie can get me to cry, it is usually one I would highly recommend. One such movie, based on a true story, which gripped me from the beginning, brought me to tears and inspired immense perseverance, was “The Pursuit of Happyness”. Starring Will Smith, the movie tells the story of a San Francisco salesman, Chris Gardner. Life is a struggle for Chris who is a single father. His wife left him, and they were evicted from their apartment, alone with nowhere to go. Chris meets and impresses a manager at a prestigious brokerage firm by solving a Rubik’s cube in a taxi ride, and lands a job as an intern at this brokerage firm. However, the position pays no money. The two of them must live at shelters and endure many hardships. What struck me the most, is that Chris refuses to give in to despair as he struggles to create a better future for himself and his son. He never tells his colleagues of his situation, studies hard at night in shelters, and even lent his boss $5 for a taxi fare when this was money he desperately relied on. The good news is that Chris eventually landed the one position over which twenty interns were fighting for! The epilogue reveals that Gardner went on to form his own multimillion-dollar brokerage firm.
What predicts success? Society tends to have the mindset that in order to be successful you need to be smart or talented, or maybe even lucky. Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, researched this very topic, ‘Who is successful and why?’. She studied people in various domains, and asked questions such as: “Which cadets would complete military training?”, “Which teachers would remain and be most effective in different areas?” and “Which sales people will keep jobs and earn the most money?”. What she found was that the biggest predictor of success and lifelong achievement was not talent, IQ, physical health or good looks. One characteristic emerged from her research and she coined it ‘grit’. Duckworth defines grit as: “The sustained application of effort towards a long-term goal”. In essence grit is the power of passion and perseverance for long term goals. Having stamina and the ability to ‘stick it out’ day in and day out over many years, like a marathon versus a race.
Many of us use natural talent as an excuse as to why we are not good enough to achieve what others can. Have you ever had that thought: “Ahh, but she was able to do it because she is smart” or “he is naturally talented, that’s why he is achieving” or “her family has money”. As a result, we do not even consider giving something a go. The incredible message that we learn from Duckworth’s research is that we can all achieve incredible things, even if we did not win the talent lottery. I can think of many talented individuals who were not “gritty” and therefore not successful since they lacked follow through. Any regular person who can exercise self-control and persevere through the tough times, can reach as high as the naturally talented. Like Gradner, in the example above, he may have been smart, however it was his hard work and mindset of perseverance over a long period of time that eventually made him stand out and landed him a job over twenty other smart guys. Your mindset is as important as your mind.
So how do we develop this thing called ‘grit’. According to Duckworth, we can focus on 4 specific areas:
1. We need to become passionate about and develop a fascination with what we are trying to do.
2. It is important to strive to improve on a daily basis
3. We can remind ourselves of the greater purpose or meaning behind what we are doing. (in her research, higher levels of purpose directly correlated to higher levels of grit!)
4. We need to adopt a “growth mindset”(Carol Dweck). This is realising that you can grow and learn new things even when you think you are too old. Your abilities are not fixed. That your brain is plastic, and can change!
Put aside what you think you know about getting ahead and outlasting your competitors, even if they are more talented than you. Getting smarter won’t help you, sticking with it will.