I found another book to recommend to you guys. Grit by Angela Duckworth. It’s thoroughly researched, thoughtfully written, with enough human interest examples to keep the data from being dull and, most importantly of all, I have never felt so motivated in my entire life. Now I’m convinced that the only thing that stands between anyone and success in life is grit.
Plus, I’ve found the thing I want to be gritty about! Spoiler: it’s writing.
The Components of Grit and How to Be Successful in Life
- Find something you like to do.
- Make that thing the thing you repeatedly do.
- Keep doing it. Get better at it. Get up after you fall down and keep going. This is basically the same point as the second point, but important enough that I’m listing it twice.
- Always believe that you have some control over doing better at that thing tomorrow.
- Believe that what you’re doing matters to other people.
I like this idea of grit so much because I can control almost every part of that beautiful list. The last two points are just your attitude. Your attitude is completely under your control. The first point is the point of life. The second point is the point of you. Point three is your actions, your days.
Before I read this book, I thought grit was basically just number two and three of my list above. You know, a synonym for determination. For perseverance. Practice. Fortitude. Doing things until you get it right and not admitting defeat when life throws shit at you.
And it is all that, but to be successful and happy, it’s also a lot more.
Find something you like to do
I thought I was gritty as a corporate lawyer. I would stay late doing what I could. All-nighters occurred with some frequency. The client wanted it yesterday and the firm culture encouraged hard work and long hours.
Now I realize I had zero grit as a lawyer. Maybe even negative grit. I didn’t even understand the meaning of the word grit. Grit implies you do this thing over a very long period of time. A lifetime if you’re lucky.
And for grit to last a lifetime, you have to actually like what you’re doing every day. You have to want to do it every day, to practice and get better. It has to fascinate you. You have to have passion. You have to want to push through the struggles and the doubts.
It’s stupid to do something over and over that you have no interest in. Why waste your life on what doesn’t bring you joy?
I know I keep telling you this, but for the last couple of months, I’ve seriously started to write a book. And I’ve LOVED it.
Make that the thing you repeatedly do
It’s not about being smart. It’s about working hard and working consistently. I know I did the whole early retirement thing stupidly quickly, but it’s not because I’m better than you. It’s because I focused.
I’ve always loved writing, but I didn’t make the time for it when my days were full of other activities, notably working a job. I had to retire first to create the time for it. I’m not naturally gifted. If I’m good at anything, it’s because I try. If I don’t try, I always fail.
Keep doing it. Get better at it. Get up after you fall down and keep going.
Grit involves deliberate practice and flow. Grit kicks complacency out of your apartment. It requires you to look for your weaknesses and nag them until they’re strengths. You’re doing it because you want to get better, even though you know you’ll never master it. It’s hard, but it’s awesomely hard because you love doing it so much.
At the same time, you’re still aiming for mastery, the jubilant feeling of flow. The full immersion in what you’re doing. Focus.
When I don’t try, I always fail, but even when I do try, I still often fail. So what? Everybody fails. When you keep going in spite of the failure, you’re doing better than most of the people out there. Showing up and trying repeatedly is the hard part.
Unless you love what you’re showing up for. It’s the passion part that makes the showing up part easy. Or at least easier.
Always believe that you have some control over doing better at that thing tomorrow.
No matter how much I love it and how much I want it and how much I practice, I will never be a lineman for the Chicago Bears. Another part of grittiness and success is my treasured idea of control. You must be able to influence the outcome.
Okay, you must believe that you can influence the outcome. Slightly different criteria, but with the same result here. I could never believe I had a chance at professional football. Remember I’m a wimp.
But I know without a doubt I can get better at writing by doing it. I can craft and fiddle with my sentences longer. That lame joke can come out. Delete. I can explain something more succinctly. There’s always room to improve.
Since I don’t worry about making money, I can concern myself with making myself better at whatever it is that I’m doing.
Believe that what you’re doing matters to other people.
You have to think that whatever it is you’re doing matters. That’s hard enough, but apparently it has to matter to not just yourself, but also to other people. Are you making any sort of difference or are you just drifting through life touching nobody?
I know I made it seem like the last two points of grit were easy because it begins and ends with your attitude, which you have complete control over, but in truth, I’m good at keeping my hands to myself. The whole reason I went for early retirement was so I didn’t have to rely on mattering to other people.
So I was kind of annoyed when Angela wrote, “what ripens passion is your conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.” Annoying, but I agree with her. Would I still blog if nobody read it? Maybe for a while, but not a lifetime.
Unfortunately, I don’t get purpose. I never quite understood organized religion. I don’t have a marriage or little tykes depending on me. You know, a family that I built and wasn’t just born into. I didn’t have a cause that made me giddy, that made me cackle.
I tell you this because I think a lot of people derive purpose from practicing their faith or raising their children or nurturing their great love. For various reasons, I’ve not wandered down those paths. If you wandered that way and are content with this part of your happiness puzzle, know that I’m envious.
But since it seems like I do need this piece of life, I’m playing with my own philosophy. My current idea is to experiment on, understand and then write about how to make life better. Step one: retire.
With grit, success is inevitable. I just have to keep doing it.