Steve Jobs. Colin Powell. Michael Jordan. All famous individuals who excelled in their fields, and whose names have become synonymous with excellence and achievement. But apart from that you are probably unaware of any similarity between them. After all, what does one of the most transformational pioneers of the personal software industry have to do with leading troops into battle, or guiding America’s foreign policy? And what do the exploits of the greatest basketball player of his generation have to do with Silicon Valley or the Pentagon? But these three over-achievers share one very surprising trait. All three were so ordinary growing up that virtually no one predicted their future greatness. They were all easily overlooked and dismissed, their talents grossly underestimated.
Steve Jobs had a 2.65 GPA in high school and never completed his first year of college. As a high school sophomore, Michael Jordan went home in tears after his basketball coach decided he wasn’t good enough to make the cut for the school’s varsity team. The future secretary of state and chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff trudged through high school with a very ordinary C average, and scant self- confidence. Not long ago, Colin Powell told an interviewer, “I never thought I would be someone important. I was just a pretty average kid with average grades in an average home. There was nothing special about me.”
So what was it that changed the course of Powell’s life? How is it that countless successful people don’t display obvious special gifts, talent, or genius early on? How do you catch up in the game of life when you aren’t blessed with perfect scores on your SAT or an Ivy League education or a family fortune to give you a head start?
Emerging research suggests that there is far more to success in life than a country club pedigree or natural ability and sheer talent. Passion and perseverance, it turns out, matter more than talent or intelligence when it comes to being successful. For most of us, the corner office or professional kudos is the result of hard work, rather than exceptional genes. The endgame, it turns out, belongs to the truly diligent, not the merely talented. It belongs to those who have grit. From our own experiences, and those of the countless successful people we have worked with across a wide array of industries, from writers and CEOs to lawyers and Broadway performers, we can say it is grit that got them, and us, where we are. Our research and experience tell us that grit can be broken down into four essential components:
Guts — Grit begins with the courage to take on a tough challenge, and not falter in the face of adversity. General George S. Patton famously defined courage as “fear holding on a minute longer.” Guts is what gives you the confidence to take a calculated risk, to be daring (without being reckless).
Resilience—Some of the world’s most notable high achievers have flunked or dropped out of school, been fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or dealt some other major setback that forced them to hit bottom. But they bounced back. Jerry Seinfeld got booed off the stage during his first stand-up gig. It took three attempts before Steven Spielberg was accepted by a film school. But neither let humiliation or failure diminish their conviction. Resilience is what gives grit its elasticity. It’s what makes you follow opportunity to the ends of the earth – even if it reroutes you to North Dakota after you bought a ticket for Maui.
Initiative—Being a self-starter is what makes grit dynamic, what sets it in motion. Leaders are often judged by their ability to take the initiative. One of our favorite examples of initiative took place on the African savanna, where thirteen-year-old Richard Turere was devastated to discover that lions had killed his family’s bull. To prevent any future attacks, Richard scavenged solar-charging cells and flashlight parts, to create a “lions light” fence. No more lions. With initiative, you don’t have to outweigh or outrun your opponent if you can outsmart them first.
Tenacity—Tenacity is the relentless ability to stay focused on a goal and is perhaps the most recognizable trait associated with grit. We see it in every athlete who overcomes a setback or a loss to win an Olympic medal or a championship ring; in every Nobel winner who has sweated through thousands of failed experiments and dead ends before making some groundbreaking discovery that has changed her field. Tenacity requires industriousness and determination, a value that brought America to its industrial peak in the twentieth century, but seems to be missing from society today…
Right now there are millions of people who have the potential to become world-class musicians, bestselling authors, or professional athletes if they are able to draw upon the guts, resilience, initiative, and tenacity necessary to realize their potential.
Adapted from Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, And Pluck Take You From Ordinary To Extraordinary by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. Visit: http://www.grittogreat.com for more information.
Thank you Robin and Linda!
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