Professional Development: Getting Gritty

Hennepin Lawyer is launching a new feature highlighting emerging research and best practices on “soft skills”: those traits and habits that are intangible and hard to measure, but crucial to career success. Our inaugural column focuses on resilience.

What do you think is the best predictor of success? If you said high IQ , you’d be wrong. Natural talent? Wrong again. Standardized test scores? No. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth, the most reliable predictor of achievement is grit. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth explains that grit, defined as passion and perseverance for longterm goals, is what really drives success. In simple terms, to be gritty means to resist complacency.

In examining the psychology of success, Duckworth studied high achievers including scientists, musicians, Olympic athletes, Green Beret soldiers, bestselling authors, entrepreneurs, artists, and even winners of the National Spelling Bee.

Her research shows that grit has two components: passion and perseverance. Passion is not obsession or intensity; rather it is consistency over time. Passion is sustained, enduring devotion to a goal. Duckworth likens passion to a compass that directs you to where you want to be. Gritty people tend to have an overall goal (compass), and most of their actions are in some way or another related to that goal. In gritty people, passion is a combination of pleasure (interest) and purpose (intent to contribute to the well-being of others).

Perseverance, the second component, means endurance and bouncing back from setbacks. It is quiet determination to stick to a course once decided upon even in the face of obstacles. High achievers don’t simply log more hours of experience or practice, they do it differently and deliberately. A gritty person seeks to improve their skills by identifying a challenge that exceeds their current level of skill, practicing it with full concentration, seeking feedback, refining their actions, and repeating again and again over time.

Duckworth developed a “grit scale,” a set of questions to reveal how gritty a person is. According to Duckworth, a grit score can predict job retention, graduation rate, and other markers of success.

Grit is not fixed, however; it can change. Duckworth suggests you can grow your grit by cultivating an interest and developing a ritual of deliberate practice. She suggests using a tactic employed by Warren Buffett. First, write down 25 career goals. Second, circle the five highest priority goals. Third, take a look at the 20 goals you didn’t circle and avoid these at all costs, as they will distract you from your primary goals. Duckworth admits that grit is not the only ingredient to success. Talent, intelligence, and opportunity play a role, but her research suggests that grit trumps these factors.

Lisa Buck
Ms. Buck practiced corporate law in Minneapolis and was an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law. She contributes to the Hennepin Lawyer and serves on the board of the Hennepin County Law Library. She is also a coach of a local high school speech team.
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