Don’t Quit, Develop Grit: Acquiring a Trait Necessary for Career Success (Whether Blind, Visually Impaired, or Fully Sighted)

Silhouette of a mountain climber, at the summit, giving a thumbs-up.

We previously discussed Dr. Angela Duckworth’s research on grit. She identified this trait of “sustained practice and performance toward very long-term goals” as one that is as important as raw talent in achieving success.

Interestingly, Dr. Duckworth notes that some are born grittier than others. [“Grittier”, yes, I can’t make this stuff up!] How about you? Are you one who is naturally determined to excel, who won’t abandon your goal when setbacks arise, and who won’t lose interest or momentum when practicing over time? If so, you’re awfully gritty, and Dr. Duckworth would predict you will succeed in an area of natural strength and interest.

If your self-assessment reveals you are more likely to relinquish your goals than dedicate years toward attaining them, you may not be naturally gritty, but you can acquire the trait.

So how do you foster and nourish grit (based on Dr. Duckworth’s research*)?

  • Recognize the choice to continue training is not a fun or easy one; however, it is the only process that leads to mastery.
  • Intentionally give up the “need” for constant excitement and entertainment. While I’m definitely not saying “never have fun”, I am saying invest the time and energy to train in your career skills (and in an important-to-you hobby) even when it’s boring and frustrating, just as you should set aside time to have fun.
  • Recognize that (according to Dr. Duckworth and Dr. Carol Dweck), you can improve your performance when you try hard over time. (Dr. Duckworth would say this is obvious, but important to deliberately acknowledge.)
  • Understand, ahead of time, you are going to meet obstacles and setbacks when training, and decide to continue despite obstacles. In fact, the obstacles can be great catalysts for growth if you overcome them.
  • Unless you are absolutely confident you need a new career, don’t give in to the desire to find a more exciting career. As long as you continue dabbling in careers, you will never work your way to career success.
  • Be mindful to delay gratification. According to Stanford Professor of Psychology, Walter Mischel**, “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.” Train yourself to focus on your goals and to distract yourself from instant gratification. Need to study but you really aren’t feeling it tonight and want to catch a movie? Shift your focus to what needs to get done, ignore the movie instead of pining over it, and begin studying.

These suggestions sound over simplified and annoyingly easy. I know. Dr. Duckworth knows. She states that training yourself in grit begins with simple mindfulness. We need to acknowledge what we want to pursue and train ourselves in the goals. We need to recognize the training is often tedious, frustrating, time-consuming, and perhaps “boring”, but training is the only route to mastery.

To wrap up, let me tell you that I am teaching my five year old daughter to write. Of course she’d rather play with dolls and stickers, so today I put my new knowledge to use. I taught her about grit and explained that practice is the only way she will learn to write, that she is capable of writing when she works hard at writing over time, and that practicing will be frustrating and maybe a tad boring. I told her that learning grit is necessary to get great at anything. Eager to “get gritty”, she worked with me through the frustration today and we will continue working every day. Giving her the mindfulness or awareness of grit was just what she needed to persevere.

Don’t quit, develop grit.

*The significance of Grit- A Conversation with Angela Lee Duckworth

**Don’t! The Secret of Self-Control