Grit, Agency and Mastery

Angela Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals.”

She also has found grit to be the single best determinant of long-term success.  The single one.  And, she tells us, we know very little about it – little about how to instill it in our kids or in ourselves.

But perhaps the definition itself, in its simple economy, gives us some insight about the way forward.

Passion: meaning that you have to care.

Perseverance: meaning that you have to push through, that this won’t be easy, that there are going to be many hard days (weeks, months), many times when things aren’t looking good.  This is going to test you.

Long-term: as in years, in most cases.

Goals: you need to have an objective, somewhere you’re trying to go, a point on the horizon or, at least, a north star.

It strikes me that we get tripped up on the “passion” bit.  Enough people have found a way to be part of something that they care passionately about.  Yet even if the big Mission with a capital “M” is motivating, the day-to-day also needs to hang together for years on end.

And what if you’re not actively working towards something that moves you?  What if you don’t even know what moves you?  Here is where people get and overwhelmed by the notion of “finding their passion.”

Two suggestions.  First, that mindset may be starting at the wrong end of the sentence.  If we’re working on grit then we can start with “perseverance,” “long-term” and “goals” and devote ourselves fully to doing great work and getting our ego out of the way.  Second, I don’t think we need to start with “Passion” with a capital “P.”  We can be passionate about small things (figuring out pivot tables once and for all) or about pieces of our work (coaching others) even in situations where the whole is leaving us flat.

The shift comes when we realize two things: that we do have the ability to decide where to apply our energies (agency); and that through applying ourselves we grow in amazing ways over long periods of time (mastery).

I find that – whether as a husband, a professional, a father, a squash player, a blogger, a speaker, a boss, whatever – I’m always aiming to improve, and the only thing that works is focusing on one thing at a time in each area of my life (as in, in squash I’ve been working on my drop shot for about a year now).  Each thing I’m passionate about changing is part of a longer term goal, and through the process of focus and dedicated work, that change happens – slowly, one thing at a time.  Each change takes months or sometimes years.  But, mostly, I progress.  And knowing that’s possible changes everything.

Angela’s 6-minute TED talk on grit just might change your whole perspective. It certainly pulled a lot of threads together for me.

One thought on “Grit, Agency and Mastery

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.