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True Grit: Why Passion and Resilience Beat Talent

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In research that spans spelling-bee contestants to best-selling authors, potters to Olympic athletes, author and psychologist Angela Duckworth discovers that hard work hammers talent every time. Here’s how.


Grit vs Gift
When we watch Messi play football or listen to Adele sing, we describe them as ‘gifted’. But behind every flick of the ball or high note are hours of unseen practice. It’s what sociologist Dan Chambliss calls ‘The Mundanity of Excellence’. In his study of competitive swimmers, he found “countless individual elements” behind “the most dazzling human achievements”. Duckworth puts an equation to it:

  • Talent x effort = skill
  • Skill x effort = achievement

By her reasoning, someone twice as talented but half as hard-working as another person might reach the same level of skill but still produce dramatically less over time”.

All in good time
It’s not just the hours you put in but the quality of time you spend that leads to success – what researcher Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate exercise”. But you don’t have to be in his research pool of ballet dancers, basketball players and chess grandmasters. His tips apply to anyone looking to master a skill:

  • set specific goals and measure the results
  • focus on your weakest areas, which you can improve upon
  • get feedback from others and invite constructive criticism
  • to master a skill: repeat, refine, repeat..

Drawing inspiration
Cartoonist Syd Hoff is a great example of this philosophy. The New York Times rejected him 2,000 times before publishing his work. For Hoff, a love of drawing helped him overcome each setback. Eventually the cartoonist found his own style and good material from life experience to help him get published.
But what if you haven’t found your dream job? Just look at gold medallist swimmer Rowdy Gaines. He tried out football, baseball, basketball, golf and tennis – in that order – before hitting the pool.

As Duckworth says, “Remember that interests must be triggered again and again and again. Find ways to make that happen. And have patience. The development of interests takes time.”

Resilience is the ability to face adversity, learn from difficult experiences and be better prepared for future challenges. Click here to download six resources all designed to build your bouncebackability.