Success Series #2: Grit: How Developing Passion and Perseverance Can Point You to Success 

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By: Kara Stewart of Blue Ascension Media

Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, began her career as an elementary school teacher and realized her passion for developing young minds. Through her research, she discovered the secret to high-level and consistent achievement and success is not talent. It’s a blend of passion and perseverance she calls “grit.” 

And developing grit can lead to achievement in any area: as a student, parent, athlete, educator, or business person. 

Read on to explore more about grit and its components of passion and perseverance, then discover your current level of grit and tips on how grit can help in college and your career beyond. 

Illustration of trees pointing directions

Success: Talent or Effort?

We’ve all probably met someone who seems to be a natural, either during childhood, now in college, or at work. Whether they play music or sports or they have an affinity for a subject like math or English, things come easily. They don’t seem to study much or practice very hard, yet they improve, win, and continue to move ahead. 

And there is another person we probably know. This person isn’t a natural. In fact, their attempts at sports or music or studying are clumsy, filled with mistakes, and if we admit it, their performance is a bit uncomfortable to watch. They are not naturals. 

Yet they keep at it.   

And if we watch long enough, we might see something interesting happen. The gifted person eventually is overtaken by the person with less natural ability but much more consistency. 

In time, effort eclipses talent. And when the person who puts in the hours at an interest that has become a passion, they often succeed at a high level. 

Why is that? 

 

The Discovery and Study of Grit: A Little Background

Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics.

Dr. Duckworth began her career as an elementary school teacher followed by a stint as a consultant with McKinsey and her entrance into the field of neuroscience and psychology. 

Through research with Navy Seals, National Spelling Bee champions, cadets at West Point, and more, she discovered that success is based not on natural talent but rather on long-term focus and dedication to improvement.

She published the ideas in her 2016 book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” 

“Novelty for the beginner comes in one form, and novelty for the expert comes in another form. For the beginner, novelty is anything that hasn’t been encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance.” 

 

What Is Grit? And How Does it Lead to Success? 

When we look at successful people we admire, whether they’re actors, musicians, singers, professional athletes, or renowned experts in their academic fields, we see their accomplishments. 

The win-loss record. The MVP awards. The Oscars. The Grammys. The TED talks. The ground-breaking research. The billion-dollar Internet companies. 

It’s easy to assume that they started here success right out of the gate. 

But behind the curtain, behind the perfect YouTube video, behind the Super Bowl win and the acceptance speech are hours and days and weeks and years and years of private unseen practice. Practice that is challenging, frustrating, and filled with mistakes. 

It’s that diligence and effort over the long haul that translates to success.

As Dr. Duckworth explains from her research , “no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.”

 

Grit = Passion + Perseverance 

“At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.” 

Success comes from both components of grit: passion and perseverance. As Dr. Duckworth describes it, “Grit isn’t just working incredibly hard. That’s only part of it.” 

She continues, “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.”

Let’s define these components according to Dr. Duckworth. 

Passion: “Passion is a compass that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately, you want to be.” 

Perseverance: “One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. So, after you’ve discovered and developed interest in a particular area [your passion], you must devote yourself to the sort of focused, full-hearted, challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery.” 

It’s important to clarify that we can have passion without perseverance or perseverance without passion. It’s the combination that leads to long-term, lifetime success. 

As an example, passion without perseverance is taking up a new hobby with obsessive focus for a while. But after a time whether that’s a few weeks or a year or two we give it up and move on to the next new thing. 

Perseverance without passion is doggedly pursuing an activity that we don’t enjoy intrinsically. Maybe we’re doing it because of other people’s expectations. Maybe it’s societal influence. While we may find a level of outward success with it, we don’t enjoy the process of learning and uncovering more layers the more we learn. We stick with it because we feel we don’t have a choice, not because we want to. 

 

How Gritty Are You? 

Dr. Duckworth developed the 10-question Grit Scale that tabulates current levels of passion and perseverance, which when combined, result in your level of grit. 

For each question, answer as the person you are today. (Note that your grit level can change over the years.) 

 

Circle the answer for each statement that applies closest to youNot like me at all

 

Not much like me

 

Somewhat like meMostly like meVery much like me
1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.54321
2. Setbacks don’t discourage me. I don’t give up easily.12345
3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.54321
4. I am a hard worker.12345
5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.54321
6. I finish whatever I begin.12345
7. My interests change from year to year.54321
8. I am diligent. I never give up.12345
9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.54321
10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.12345

Add up the boxes you circled and divide by 10. The maximum score is 5 (extremely gritty). The lowest possible score is 1 (not at all gritty).

The even-numbered questions calculate passion. The odd-numbered questions calculate perseverance. 

What do you see? And do you see patterns or areas you’d like to improve? 

You can take the quiz online for free:

https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/

 

Can You Grow More Grit?

Yes! Similar to the theory of fixed vs. growth mindset covered in our Success Series article Developing a Growth Mindset is Good for Learning (and Life), we can grow our growth mindset — and we can grow our level of grit. 

“You can learn to discover, develop, and deepen your interest. You can acquire the habit of discipline. You can cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning. And you can teach yourself to hope. You can grow your grit from the inside out.” 

As Dr. Duckworth explains it, “grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity.”

In short, “we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.” 

She describes four psychological assets that often develop, in a particular order, over the years. More life experience really can lead to greater grit. 

Interest: The intrinsic enjoyment of enjoying the work is the start of developing a passion. While not every aspect of the work may be enjoyable, the endeavor overall is captivating. 

Practice: This is trying today to do things better than we did yesterday. It’s a daily focus on improving weaknesses and improving. Gritty practice is not complacent practice or just going through the motions. 

Purpose: When your work matters, you have the conviction you share it with others. Without purpose, it’s nearly impossible to sustain a passion over a lifetime. 

Hope. Hope spans the entire arc of grit, and it’s that inner strength to rise to the occasion and keep going — even when we have doubt or struggle during a challenging period. 

 

Deliberate Practice: How Grit Can Help During College and in Life Beyond 

“Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time. Furthermore, this ‘life philosophy,’ … is so interesting and important that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity. In very gritty people, most mid-level and low-level goals are, in some way or another, related to that ultimate goal. In contrast, a lack of grit can come from having less coherent goal structures.” 

A dedication to deliberate practice is one of the key factors of grit that highly successful people use to improve over the long term. 

We have to remember that the flawless performances we see from successful people took thousands of hours of practice to achieve. This practice is imperfect, mistake-ridden, and often frustrating. But instead of being demoralizing, the practice is done with a positive and deliberate approach to improvement and continued learning. 

We can use this approach for studying while in college, and then apply it to our first job, to develop our career, and to create a well-lived life. 

Here are the basic requirements of deliberate practice.

  1. Set a clearly defined stretch goal. Identify a specific weakness. Focus on one narrow area to improve.
  2. Commit to and strive to accomplish the stretch goal. 
  3. Make deliberate practice a habit. Do it at the same time, in the same place, every day.
  4. During practice, use full concentration and effort. Eliminate distractions. 
  5. Seek immediate, informative feedback. Listen to and implement the instruction. 
  6. Repeat with reflection and refinement.
  7. One you’ve reached the first stretch goal, set another. 
  8. Repeat.

According to Dr. Duckworth, “No matter their initial talent, performers in every domain improve through deliberate practice…. Trying to do things you can’t do yet, failing, and learning what to do differently is exactly how experts practice.”

Remember that feeling frustrated isn’t necessarily a sign you’re on the wrong track. Wanting to do better is one of the best traits to have during learning. Instead, change the way you interpret frustration or challenge. Learn to embrace it rather than fear or dread it. 

 

Grit to Grow On 

When we discover an interest that develops into a passion and we apply the long-term dedication of improvement, we’ve got grit. 

No matter our level of grit today, we can consciously develop more over time. 

For all of us, this is good news. Long-term success can be developed over time through a commitment to learning, seeing challenge as opportunity rather than failure, and nurturing a deep interest in an area that grows even stronger over time no matter how much experience we gain. 

As our grit expands and strengthens as we mature, the benefits can extend well beyond completing college. Grit can bring color to our life with meaning through continual growth and learning. 

 

What’s Next for You? 

What did you learn about grit, passion and perseverance that will be helpful as you pursue your goals in college and life? Let us know! 

Be sure to check out the resources below for more inspiration as you continue to make progress toward your aspirations in life. 

 

Resources

Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” Scribner, 2016.

Dr. Duckworth website with online grit scale, background, research data, and details: https://angeladuckworth.com

Character Lab, a nonprofit founded by Dr. Duckworth, that uses psychological science to help children thrive. Includes playbooks, tips and articles:  https://characterlab.org/

 

Laurus College Resources

Laurus College Success Series Blog Articles:
Developing a Growth Mindset is Good for Learning (and Life)

Laurus College Student Services: Career Toolbox
https://lauruscollege.edu/student-services/career-toolbox/

Laurus College Blog Article: Study Skills
https://lauruscollege.edu/study-skills/

Laurus College Blog Article: Soft Skills — The Key to a Successful Career
https://lauruscollege.edu/soft-skills-the-key-to-a-successful-career/

 

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