GRIT: consistency over time leads to excellence
We see so many images of people’s success on social media, it is easy to feel inadequate. We see the end result, the glory, the win…but we do not see the process it took to get there. There are few photos of failed lifts, finishing last, an unsuccessful experiment, getting a C on an assignment. No one posts a picture of themselves missing a party because they had to stay home and study. A photo of an athlete drinking water instead of eating dessert just doesn’t have the same Instagram appeal. Watching someone learn a new sport, looking awkward and clumsy, is terrible entertainment. We see none of these images, yet this GRIT is exactly what it took to get to the end result. The philosopher Nietzsche said “with everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be.”
To achieve great things you must have consistency over time. This means doing drills, falling, practicing, and working over and over at the thing you feel the least confident performing. The path to achievement is can look quite boring and even ugly! Reaching your goals take GRIT. One of my favorite books on the subject is by Angela Duckworth, https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-book/ She describes, “grit is more about stamina than intensity. It isn’t about just working incredibly hard. It is about developing real expertise, figuring out hard problems, and it takes more time than most people imagine. Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you are willing to stay loyal to it.” A high level of performance is often the accumulation of mundane acts.
So then, what about talent? What about the people with natural abilities and gifts? It is easy for us to think that people who have achieved success were just born with talent. It is comfortable for us to think that some people are just born with gifts, and if we weren’t, we have an excuse to do less. To think this way gives us an excuse to not put in effort. We don’t try things because we think we can’t. While we can’t all be professional athletes or cure cancer, we can all gain some success in any area if we have the grit to put in the effort. As Duckworth says, talent matters, but effort matters more. In this illustration we see what many believe, that talent leads directly to achievement.
Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.
I see this working in opposite ways in two areas of my life. In cross-fit I’m not good at gymnastics. It is so easy to think, I didn’t do gymnastics as a kid, so I’ll never be good, and focus on weightlifting instead. To think this way not only negates the tremendous amount of work my gymnast friends put in over years, but it also sells myself short! I am capable of becoming strong in that area, but I have to put in the time and practice. I can’t handstand walk now, but someday I can if I keep working on my drills every day. It took years of gymnastic lessons and practice for others, I have to put in the same effort. On the flip side, I have had people say how I am “lucky” to have become a surgeon. I agree that my family, upbringing, previous education, etc. led to to that choice, and that there is some “luck” in the circumstances into which we are born. However, making my way through medical school and residency had little to do with talent or luck. Finishing years of post graduate training took grit, and still does! Talent may have gotten me in the door, but it took many weekends at home, early mornings and late nights to learn all that information. In surgery I was taught and corrected over and over. I felt inadequate most days, especially as a junior resident. But in areas where I didn’t feel confident, I bought extra books and spent extra time teaching myself. Looking back, I often wonder how I didn’t give up. Perhaps my hand was too cramped to let go? Despite feeling uncomfortable most of the time, I persisted because I have grit.
In my personal experience, much of this process is incredibly frustrating. Getting up each day and facing something you do not do well does not feel comfortable. It is easy to compare the uneasiness one feels to a victorious image on social media and want to give up. But the ability to push through, keep going, and stay on the path is what leads to end goal. Not quitting is success in itself. So I’d like to encourage those who feel they are crawling through the process. It is a series of small steps that will get you there.
Grit is the ‘extra something’ that separates the most successful people from the rest. It’s the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality. – Travis Bradberry, author