The Power of Grit

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By Grace Ueng, Savvy Growth

A few years ago, the head of my son’s high school mentioned at a parent breakfast the importance of “grit” and Professor Angela Duckworth’s TED talk. I tucked this tidbit into the recesses of my brain.  Last year, I plunged into the study of positive psychology. A single mom for 17 years, suddenly becoming an empty nester, I began my happiness journey for personal reasons for fear of falling into despondency.  I soon discovered I would be able to incorporate this very practical and helpful knowledge into my coaching practice and dove even deeper into my studies.

Angela Duckworth and her research rushed to headline my world for many weeks. I listened to her book Grit on Audible over and over during my runs. I could so relate – both Chinese American, schooled at Harvard, and when she mentioned reading her manuscript chapter by chapter to her father who had Parkinson’s, I thought, “wow, another thing we have in common…”

Her book validated my long held theory that any success I’ve achieved has not been through natural talent, rather through very hard work. I scored a relatively high IQ in grade school enough to gain entrance into the gifted program where I got to dissect rats, side by side those truly at the genius level like Calvin Kuo now leading his own cancer lab at Stanford. But by today’s standards, I would be on the borderline of being admitted to such a program, only a bit above average. Surrounding myself with students way, way more brilliant at MIT and then outrageously competitive and ambitious peers at Harvard Business School, always made me work harder.

As I advance in decades, I at times found myself futilely finding ways to continue to challenge myself.
I was encouraged to learn in Grit that contrary to popular belief, IQ scores are not entirely fixed over a person’s lifespan. I still have hope.

At my 50th birthday party, I asked friends to not bring gifts, but to tell a memory that we’ve shared; these toasts in most cases ended up being funny roasts.  At the conclusion, however, my friend who gave the last toast expressed that my expansive passion for whatever I undertake in life is what he remembers. I think that is just the way I came into this earth.  Duckworth said that if she ever gave a commencement address, the first thing she would encourage young people is to develop a passion.  Another area I share in common with Angela! My wish in the coming decades  to help inspire everyone I touch to have a Passion, yup a capital P, and to experience it furiously and fully.

In recent years, I have come to admire my son’s grit. Given he has not eaten red meat or dessert since turning 16, I encouraged him his senior year in high school to attend the kickoff showing of documentary PlantPure Nation based on Colin Campbell’s China Study. He sat completely focused and mesmerized throughout the 95 minutes. Not easy for my then 18 year old who has “battled” ADHD for years. I now realize it is a treasure – just take a look at Michael Phelps and Elon Musk.  And as one highly successful entrepreneur recently told me, I have a bit too as does he.  People gifted with ADHD are natural entrepreneurs. And one of my coaching clients who runs more companies than I can count up to also holds this positive difference. What makes him special.

So focusing back on the topic at hand, after viewing the documentary, my son immediately became a vegetarian.  Several weeks later,  he converted to being a pure vegan which he has steadfastly remained through his freshman year at UNC Chapel Hill.  He is now designing his own Food Policy major.  He wakes up every day to run 6-8 miles up the hill of Chapel Hill. He has grit. His effort counts twice. He inspires my running and eating. #nickgrit


How to Calculate and Understand your Grit Score:

N.B. Grit is not the end all; character and morals trump grit.

What is your Grit score?  I scored 3.92 on a scale of 1 to 5
5 = extremely gritty and 1 = not at all gritty.
I have room to improve! You can grow your grit. Cultivate interests.  Develop daily habit of challenge exceeding skill practice. Connect your work to a purpose bigger than yourself.  Learn to hope when all seems lost.

2 Components of Grit: Perseverance is usually higher
Passion Component: 4.2 (mine)
Perseverance Component: 5.2 (mine)

So those who of us who are not genius are not off the hook, as according to Duckworth’s research,
Genius can be Acquired!

  • Talent x Effort = Skill
    • Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Talent you have naturally.
    • Skills are only achieved through beating on your craft for hours and hours.
      • For a talented potter, the first 10,000 pots are difficult.
  • Skill x Effort = Achievement
    • Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them.
    • Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential.
    • A coach can make all the difference.  Michael Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, is a prime example. And can be more important than anything about the individual.

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Points from Grit I took via Audible that jumped out at me while on my runs!

  • Luck is just as important as talent.  Almost every entrepreneur who exited successfully attributes luck to their outcome.  This is not said just out of modesty. While usually self deprecating and their own harshest critics, successful entrepreneurs are confident, yet satisfied always being unsatisfied.
  • High achievers have not just determination, but direction.
  • Winners love to go head to head with competition and hate losing.
    • “Always compete.  Compete in everything you do. You’re a Seahawk in everything you do.”
      • Head Coach and EVP of Seattle Seahawks of the NFL, Peter Caroll
  • Darwin’s research concluded that zeal and hard work are ultimately more important than intellectual ability. He realized that he was above average in noticing things that easily escape attention and observe them carefully.  His love of natural science was steady and ardent.
  • Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is not.
  • In all things in life, 9 out of 10 things do not work.
  • Most people stink at the things they love!  And stink even more at the things they don’t love.
    Takes hard work to get good. A friend who was a leader at a client of my firm, “retired” at 5o and has been spending a lot of time playing golf.  When I asked him if he is taking 20 years to become an overnight success at golf, he couldn’t agree more.
  • Social Multiplier Effect:  playing basketball with people just a more skilled better make you better.
    I definitely observe that I get better by being around people better than me!
  • To be interesting is to be different, surprising.   Latin root word:  Interesa – to differ.
  • Growth Mindset (as researched by Carol Dweck) and Grit go together.