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Grit: How to Become Indispensable at Work

by | Jun 5, 2017

Sleepiness The Career Killer

Being gritty means putting forth an authentic, sustained effort towards a long-term goal.

Angela Duckworth is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is a New York Times bestseller.

In an interview with Shankar Vedantam, the host of NPR’s Hidden Brain, Duckworth shared an anecdote about her past as a high school math teacher. Back then, she thought that students who were quickly able to answer questions on a new concept would progress more than those who usually needed the concept explained to them several times.

She was wrong.

By the end of the year, an unexpected pattern had emerged: The best grades went to gritty, “slow learners” who applied an authentic and sustained effort all year. The non-gritty, “quick learners” usually fell behind these kids.

It’s better to be gritty than talented as an adult at work, too. Employees need not start near the top of the talent pool to end up there. They need only time and grit.

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Grit generates value …

“What was revelatory to me was not that effort matters,” says Duckworth. “Everybody knows that effort matters. What was revelatory to me was how much it mattered.”

We like to think that talented individuals are exactly that: Talented, lucky. It’s human nature to romanticize the notion that skilled people were born great. It makes experiencing their work more enjoyable …

“When you present genius as being effortless,” says Vedantam, “at some level, it’s more pleasurable to the audience than if you present genius as being the product of very, very hard work.”

Of course, talented people weren’t born successful. But they were born with a seed of potential. A seed that, when primed by a gritty character, could eventually sprout into something valuable, even indispensable to an employer.

But how can employees get there?

How to be gritty at work:

You don’t need to be born gritty. You can develop grit over time, like a habit.

“I don’t believe that grit is an either you have it or you don’t,” says Duckworth. “I don’t believe that it’s entirely genetic. I don’t believe that whatever your grit is today means that that’s what your grit is going to be tomorrow.”

According to Duckworth, there are four psychological assets people can cultivate to draw the grit out of themselves:

1. Interest.

Research demonstrates that when people are interested, they’re more attentive. They’re able to recall information better. They’re more persistent and effortful.

Interest is a strong predictor of engagement. As psychologists at Vanderbilt discovered, students will often continue to take classes on subjects that interested them as freshmen throughout their academic career. For some students, an initial interest can even become a major.

“You can’t be gritty about something you’re not interested in,” says Duckworth.

This makes knowing yourself—what you like, what moves you—a prerequisite for grit.

2. Practice.

Obviously, gritty people are disciplined in this department. But not all practice is created equal. One type of practice is the most difficult, but also the most impactful. It’s called deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is a proven, potent form of training designed to improve a specific area of performance.

It’s not enjoyable, but it’s also not supposed to be. Deliberate practice is trying, uncomfortable work because it forces you to isolate an element of your craft that’s lacking, something that’s naturally difficult for you.

According to famed psychologist, Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice is one of the best ways to rapidly improve skills and, ultimately, become an expert at something.

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3. Purpose.

Angela Duckworth interviewed a lot of gritty people for her book. “Paragons of grit” is how she described them. These are people that exemplify passion and perseverance in what they do.

“They [all] have a sense of how what they do, day in, day out, is meaningful and beneficial to people who are not them,” says Duckworth. “[They have] a beyond-the-self outlook, a beyond-the-self purpose.”

Purpose will get you up in the morning. It’ll help you live longer, too.

Find purpose in your work, and grit will follow.

4. Hope.

Gritty people are hopeful. They’re optimistic even when the future holds little promise.

Hope is an attitude, a mindset. If you lack grit, visualizing the light at the end of the tunnel can be an effective way to stay focused and goal-oriented.


What do we call people that are too gritty? People that are persistent against all logic and reason?

We call them stubborn.

But are they?

As Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain host and overall great thinker, illustrates: “We call them gritty or call them stubborn after we know how things turned out in the end.”

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