When Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance uses the word talent, she means the relative quickness or ease someone has in learning something. If someone is talented at basketball, for instance, it just means they have a seemingly natural ability to learn more quickly and with relative ease compared to someone who’s not talented.
But effort, on the other hand, “isn’t how quickly or easily you get better at something,” says Angela. “It’s the quality and the quantity of your engagement. In a way, you can think of talent and effort being the two things that, in combination, create skill.”
What Angela refers to as grit is the ability for someone dedicated to learning a skill or chasing a goal to keep at it over the long haul and not give up before realizing its fulfillment. It’s this combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals that determines the quality and quantity of the effort spent — more so than the ease and quickness of so-called talent.
Dissecting Grit: Passion and Perseverance
We know that passion and perseverance go into grit — but where does this passion and perseverance come from?
According to Angela, passion comes from:
Interest — the subject captivates our attention.
Purpose — the subject is worthwhile beyond casual interest.
“To use myself as an example,” says Angela, “I not only find psychology interesting — and it not only captures my attention — but I feel like my work is purposeful in a sense that it could benefit other people.”
Perseverance comes from:
Practice — the capacity for daily practice to get better at the subject.
Resilience or hope — the ability to overcome obstacles in the path of our goals instead of letting them throw us off course.
These elements compose grit and allow us to take part in the long-term marathon of improvement, whereas those blessed with talent might only last for the short-term sprint.
Satisfied by Being Dissatisfied
In her book, Angela explains how there’s no realistic expectation among super successful people of ever really catching up to their ambition. In other words, they’re never good enough and they’re always non-complacent, yet that sense of purpose keeps them driving forward.
But this acceptance toward never being truly satisfied isn’t as grim and depressing as it might sound. “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Angela. “I talked to a very successful, long-time CEO of a mid-sized company. He was struggling to put this into words himself. He said, ‘It’s really being satisfied by being dissatisfied.'”
When you’re a lifelong learner, you’re always going to see in hindsight how you might have done something better in the past — but that just means you’re improving. The key is to look forward rather than beating yourself up for mistakes and inefficiencies of the past.
“It’s a very future-oriented outlook,” says Angela. “And I think because it’s future-oriented, because it’s looking forward to learning and growing — never necessarily expecting perfection but always chasing it — there is a possibility of being satisfied by being dissatisfied.”
High performers with this outlook aren’t in denial about their own success, but they develop their own ways to see progress in smaller forms.
At West Point, an academy where cadets are famously abundant in what we think of as grit, Angela found the Grit Scale to be a stunningly accurate predictor of who would make it through the initial Beast Barracks training — “the hardest time of your four years at West Point,” according to Angela — and who would drop out.
“It didn’t entirely surprise me, because that’s what grit is supposed to predict,” says Angela, “but it ended up being really a pretty astoundingly reliable predictor. We’ve collected data at West Point nearly every year since we started that study, and though attrition rates shrink at West Point year on year — in other words, more cadets are staying and fewer cadets are leaving from Beast Barracks training — grit tends to reliably predict who will stay.”
Talent Counts, But Effort Counts Twice
There’s no denying that talent — that ease and quickness some of us have when pursuing certain skills — counts. But if we want to create tangible achievements, we need the benefit of effort (and, ideally, the other components of grit) to make our skills productive over time.
“So talent counts,” says Angela, “because it helps us develop skill, but effort, because it helps us develop skill and helps that skill be productive, in that sense I would say effort counts twice.”
To see what the disparity between talent and effort looks like over time in graph form, check out this article from Compass: The Mechanics of Human Achievement by Angela L. Duckworth, Johannes C Eichstaedt, and Lyle H. Ungar.
Remember this the next time you believe yourself unable to match the skill of someone who’s merely talented. If you put in the effort while they rest on their laurels, you stand not only match them — but possibly surpass them.
“I don’t think any of us need to believe that we could be the fastest person on the planet (Usain Bolt) or we could be Einstein,” says Angela. “I don’t necessarily want to send that message that anybody could be anyone. But almost all of us could be so much more than we believe we could be.”
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about making greatness doable, growing our grit, the importance of consistency in effort, the hierarchy of goals, articulating top-level goals, adaptation and prioritizing of goals, the gratification gained from living a life of grit, when to give up on goals and when to dig in, why — depending on your age — you may not be familiar with the word Polaroid, the four psychological assets of interest, practice, purpose, and hope, and more.
AJ Harbinger - author of 1157 posts on The Art of Charm
AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality.
Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.
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