Grit

 “Fall down seven times and get up eight.”   Japanese proverb

 It is among my treasured success principles . . . she taught it to me by how she lived. The teacher, Lucille Hackbarth, was my mother. Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. was a 27-year old teacher when she started on a journey that would result in discovery and further research on what I call my mom’s ‘success principle.’

While teaching seventh grade math in New York City public schools, Dr. Duckworth noticed that some of her smartest students were curiously not doing well. Her observation prompted the important queries that laid the foundation for a new voyage into a new career.

Her passionate desire for answers would eventually lead to her obtaining an A.B. in neurobiology at Harvard, an M.Sc. in neuroscience at the University of Oxford and a Ph.D in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. The questions that started this expedition were simple:

I wonder: what if doing well in school and in life depends on more than your IQ? Were there other ingredients that mattered beside the ability to learn easily or quickly?

During graduate school, Dr. Duckworth began astutely studying people who were in highly challenging situations: from West Point Cadets, to National Spelling Bee participants, and to school teachers in tough neighborhoods. Her research team identified those who were successful and then focused on the explanation for their success. She and her research team asked and answered the question, ‘Why are some individuals successful in challenging environments’?

In a variety of different contexts, one ingredient surfaced as a key predictor of success. It was not IQ rating. It was not good looks. Physical health was not a factor. Dr. Duckworth would label this principle . . . Grit!

 In a recent Ted Talk presentation (a forum of experts), Dr. Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance for long-term goals – looking at life through the lens of years going by: a marathon, not a sprint; endurance and effort made each day through a long period of time.  It is doing exacting work each day with long-term values in view.  And what does she advise? Be passionate each day . . .  persevere each day . . .  eyes pressed forward on the future.

“To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” Angela Lee Duckworth, Ph.D.

But, can you teach grit to others? How do you keep them motivated when the distance  is long-term, not just today? Research revealed that talent is not related to grit. If you are going to teach or learn about grit, you will have to start with something else – (good news for those of us who think we are short on talent).

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. of Stanford University has perhaps identified the best pathway in developing grit.  Her important research, chronicled in an earlier blog, concluded that the ability to learn is not fixed.  Dr. Dweck titled the findings of the research ‘growth mindset’ where one does not limit their ability to succeed based solely on an IQ scale. Whether low, high or average, intelligent quotients should not limit, nor determine our ability to become better . . .  to overcome a challenge, and to succeed.

Growing up, I did not have the advantage of such important research. Thankfully, however, I was privileged, to be guided by one person who exhibited   immeasurable common sense, developed along the way through many challenging experiences helping to validate her approach to life.  The ‘Grit Principle’ on her own terms – practiced and taught by Lucille Hackbarth, my mom . . .

“When knocked down, get back up. Never quit. Don’t give up. Succeed.”

During some of the most difficult moments confronting me in running a business, this principle provided confidence and reassurance again, and again.  Sometimes, when the challenges in professional and personal relationships seemed overwhelming – with no feasible answers in view – invariably, the very important first step was in not giving up but in getting up!

In an extremely challenging moment, we may lack the detailed solution we seek. We may not be able to clearly see the future. When it is the hardest thing we will ever do – getting up and not giving up – may also be the most important.

If you live long enough, as I have, you will have disappointment and heartache. You will lose family and friends in death. You will not always win. You will be challenged. How will you respond? How do you want to respond?

Today, I will get up and not give up!

Today, I will succeed!
Today, I will have grit!