It’s easy to assume that successful people are highly talented. No matter what the level of ability, those who’ve succeeded are those who’ve put in the work. To quote Michael Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that’s why I’ve succeeded.” Charles Darwin considered, “Natural talent the least important aspect of success.” Lois Pasteur said, “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: My strength lies solely in my tenacity!” Coach Anson Dorrance, coach of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill believes, “Talent is common; what you invest to develop that talent is the critical final measure of greatness.”
So if natural talent is the least important aspect to success, then what is? In one word: Grit! Grit is courage and resolve, the strength of character and the firmness of mind. In other words, an indomitable spirit! It is the perseverance and passion for long-term goals that bring success. Grit is holding the same top-level goal for a very long time. It is about falling down seven times and getting up eight! Remember, that the growth is in the journey. You continue to move forward by getting off your knees and back on your feet.
Gritty people are constantly striving to better themselves, and it’s not so much about logging hours of practice. It’s more about practicing deliberately, with a set goal of getting better at a particular test while keeping track of performance. Complacency is the enemy of grit! To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting purposeful goal. That goal has to be personally meaningful in order to draw you forward. If it isn’t deeply interesting to you, you won’t persevere.
So how do you get gritty? First comes interest. Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do. It’s impossible to struggle towards a goal if that objective is not meaningful.
Next comes the capacity to practice. One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better today than yesterday. This practice is also about doing what you don’t necessarily do best; it’s about learning to assess your weaknesses and practicing what doesn’t come naturally.
The third is purpose. According to Angela Duckworth in her book Grit, “What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters.” Purpose is a goal that moves beyond the ordinary. Purpose means “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” The parable of the bricklayers speaks to me:
- Three bricklayers were asked: “What are you doing?”
- The first says, “I am laying bricks”
- The second says, “I am building a church”
- And the third says, “I am building the house of God.”
Finally, you have to have hope. Hope is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance. Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t –you’re right.” Hope is a kind of optimism that moves you towards your goals, you won’t get far without it; you’d just give up.
2018 has been a particularly gritty year for me. In January at the National Cyclocross Championships, I had a hard crash in the warm-up of my first race. I heard a crack and thought: “Well, I’ve either adjusted my back or I’ve broken a rib.” Later that day when I raced, I was in considerable discomfort. When I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning, I knew I was in trouble. A quick trip to Urgent Care confirmed a broken rib. That was on a Wednesday. I raced again on Friday, at altitude, with a broken rib and beat my SoCal nemesis, which had been my goal.
In July on my fourth century ride (100 miles) of the year, I had a big crash at mile 71. With a deep gash to my elbow and pretty severe pain in my ribs, I completed the next 33 miles. I had a set goal of finishing the ride, so I did. When I arrived in Santa Barbara, I cleaned up my elbow, went to lunch, caught the train back to Glendale; At 11:00pm, I finally went to the ER. I needed five stitches in my elbow and was diagnosed with two broken ribs.
This much has been true of me as an athlete, but has also been confirmed for me in my career: I’m gritty. I’ve had failure after failure, made endless mistakes and yet, I have been driven, often blindly, by the passion for making a difference in the lives of the people I touch through fitness. Without that deep conviction that I can make a difference, I would never have continued. Discovering your passion will determine how you live your life. Motivational speaker Robert Holden says it best for me: “A job is something you do for money. A purpose is something you do for love. A job helps make a living. A purpose helps make a life.”