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Grit and the Man in the Arena

Grit is a habit, so is quitting. Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player who ever played the game was known and feared for his relentless play on the court, and his reputation for never giving up. He once said, “If you ever quit, even once, it becomes easier the next time. Quitting or not quitting both become habits.”

Angela Duckworth, a well-known professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is an expert when it comes to the subject of grit and self-control. She has conducted exhaustive research on the subject with both youth and adults, including an entire class at West Point Military Academy. In her studies Professor Duckworth discovered an important fact: Grit is a more predictive indicator of success than IQ or talent. In fact, she statically shows grit or effort was twice as important as intelligence or talent as an indicator of success. The model produced by her research looks like this:

Talent + effort = skill

Talent + skill = results

The key component of the model is effort! Without effort there is no skill and no results. What is grit? Here is how Professor Duckworth defines it: Passion and sustained persistence applied toward long term achievement with no concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades. Grit is a character attribute that can be developed and improved over time. Start by developing a passion for what you want to do. Second, commit to daily improvement, never give up. Measure this passion against your greater purpose, why are you doing this? Finally, develop a growth mindset. Keep raising the bar every day. Never give up, and never quit.

This quote from President Theodore Roosevelt says it best:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

It is grit that helps a person overcome his or her shortcomings or disadvantages and allows that person to succeed. It is not talent or IQ that is your ticket to success and results, but rather grit that is the best indicator. Talent plus IQ and grit, of course, is the best. Signs of Grit:

  • Will not let go, perseveres

  • Able to turn losses into wins

  • Survives/thrives through tough challenges

  • Enjoys self-improvement

  • Strong Willed

  • Passionate

  • Does not quit

Vince Lombardi, former coach of the NFL Green Bay Packers, was once asked the secret of his success, and his response was: “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made, like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”


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