The fascinating work of both Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck has been in the media in recent months. Duckworth’s research shows that what she calls grit trumps such factors as education, talent, and IQ in determining a person’s ability to navigate life challenges or work successfully toward a goal. Grit, quite simply, is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It involves having an ultimate concern: a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.
The grit research dovetails nicely with Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets: the beliefs people have about themselves and their qualities. People with a growth mindset see their qualities, including personality and IQ, as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. People with a fixed mindset believe that their personality and IQ are fixed and cannot change, regardless of their efforts. A growth mindset makes it easier for people to persevere toward what they want, because they are not focused on limitations that may not be relevant or fixed. Together grit and a growth mindset allow for a dynamic and evolving life to emerge over time. Possibilities become open-ended.
This may be why messages about “living your best life” and “transforming your life” resonate powerfully with many people. The growth mindset creates the opportunity for individuals to live as dynamic lifelong learners. We can create pathways to fulfill dreams, overcome obstacles, and accomplish goals. Our current and past circumstances—such as personality traits, income levels, grades, and test scores—do not need to affect where we are next year or even next month. You may know people, famous and not so famous, who have cared so much about a goal or passion that they continued to learn and persevere, even through challenges, and became happy, savvy, and purposeful. In fact, you may be a living and breathing example of grit and the growth mindset.
As I reflect back on the rolling storms and successes of the last two years of my life, I recognize that using and expanding the qualities that make up “grit and growth” got me to solid ground. Three ultimate concerns became my focus: my son’s life, my freedom, and my deep desire to help people as an entrepreneur. This focus galvanized every healthy action I took and many actions that I still take today. I knew I could learn new skills one bite at a time in the domains of learning technology, expanding my business, and advocating for my son. I could listen keenly to every piece of coaching, guidance, and wisdom that people offered, and apply the pieces that fit my life.
Because I stayed focused on my ultimate concerns, I found clarity and a passion to persevere through many dark nights and days of humiliating, painful, and terrifying events layered on top of everyday challenges like a broken washing machine, a parked car being smashed on the drivers’ side, a really sick dog, and the deaths of several loved ones. These events took place in this larger context of my passion for my son’s life, my freedom, and my desire to help people thrive in the spaces they live and work. These goals got me out of bed in the morning willing and ready to face the large and small storms of my life.
Maybe you have done this too. Maybe life challenges or a clear goal created the opportunity for your “grit and growth” to emerge and propel you forward, in spite of life factors you could have seen as setbacks and limitations. Maybe you or a loved one got a life-threatening diagnosis or you decided to go back to school and earn your degree. Perhaps you left the corporate life and chose to become an entrepreneur, you lost your job and forged a new path forward, or you chose your freedom from unworkable relationships. Sometimes life can be hard and heartbreaking, and sometimes we simply want something different for our lives. Have you discovered an “ultimate concern” that trumps an ongoing health issue, the feedback you once got from teachers, or the things your parents thought were your personality?
Perhaps you have not seen yourself as someone who has grit and maybe you see your personality, intelligence, and talents as being fixed. The good news is that research has demonstrated that grit and a growth mindset can be developed. You may have more of these traits than you realize. Where do grit and growth live in your life? In what past events or circumstances have you persevered or refused to believe someone else’s ideas about you? Both you and life itself are dynamic and evolving. What would you do or who could you be if you freed yourself from thoughts about your limits?
Sometimes curiosity leads to developing a passion, and taking small steps each day in the direction of a goal can allow you to persevere. Most people who succeed keep going and don’t give up on themselves or their goal, but they also take it one small bite at a time. This often can be a healthy way to eat a meal and to pursue a long-term goal or desire.
Do you have an “ultimate concern”—or perhaps a few ultimate concerns—that give meaning to your life? In what domains of your life are you learning new things? What gets you out of bed in the morning besides the amazing smell of coffee brewing?