On Grit: It’s not about being smart

By | December 16, 2016

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

  1. Find something you like to do.
  2. Make that thing the thing you repeatedly do.
  3. 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.
  4. Always believe that you have some control over doing better at that thing tomorrow.
  5. 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 wanted to see what he was staring at. This was taken in Prague. At least, I think so.

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.


I used to stink at sudoku before I put the necessary time in. I use the word necessary loosely.

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.


Machu Picchu in Peru with my sister, Angela. No, not the same Angela who wrote Grit.

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.


22 thoughts on “On Grit: It’s not about being smart

  1. Biglaw Investor

    Interesting. I definitely think of grit as a synonym for perseverance. I assume I have it in spades as a corporate lawyer. I’ve heard others say good things about this book too. Maybe if I grit my teeth (does she explain what that means?) I’ll be able to make some time to read it in 2017.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      It took me nearly four days to finish this book, so it’s not a quick read. I found myself stopping to think quite a bit. That being said, it’s worth the time. I think.

  2. Mrs. Doodlepop

    Amazing how the worlds works! In my Toastmasters meeting yesterday someone presented a speech about this book and now today this article appears. The universe is trying to tell me something…thanks for sharing! I always enjoy your perspective. For what it’s worth, I found an incredible partner who I love a ton, but still struggle with purpose. It’s tough! But I keep trying new things to see what I’m passionate about and am hopeful that one day I’ll find it 🙂

  3. Helen

    Great ideas there Anita! I’ll be reading it over Christmas and do let us know on your book progress, I’m sure all your readers’ have their interest piqued. All the best for the holidays 🙂

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      First draft is done. Now I’m just exploring publishing options. Traditional or self publishing? 🙂 I’m really giddy to have it out in the world. Soon!

  4. Meg

    Thanks for sharing a book recommendation! 🙂 I think this one will be added to my library list.

  5. tt

    I am reminded of a line from ‘Dances with Wolves’

    “I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life, there are some that matter most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail, and it is good to see.”

    Grit as described is an adult characteristic. Adult, focused and strong.

  6. Barbara

    What are the benefits of self-publishing over the standard route?

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Self publishing: You get to control every part of its creation; you get a significantly higher share of the price of the book. Traditional: You don’t have to hire someone to do the things you don’t know how to do (e.g. book cover design, proofreading, etc.). I’m writing a post on this too. 🙂

  7. Mike

    “Retiring” early, is a nice way to put it. Doing what pleases you above all else is a wonderful “success” story? Misdirected “grit” is an entirely different adjective altogether and one that is not necessarily worthy of emulation. Several friends of mine in the Bay Area have the means to immediately “retire” but they wouldn’t think of just traveling and taking pictures for their day to day life. Oh, don’t get me wrong they have traveled extensively and for long periods and continually, but in a way that they feel personally responsible for also being of service to others creating something within, yes, even the corporate environment. Even the very thing we type on and are reading this from is built by people within a business. I am personally glad they had the ‘grit’ to bear it out and space their vacations in a way that also lets the world find joy in what they’ve created while being compensated for their services. Could we all find a way to retire right now? If you’ve made $100k for more than a few years the answer is probably yes for most right away, for those who haven’t well – see your advice on how to get there. There seems to be a presumption however that everyone wants to ‘retire’ and serve themselves without the “service” part of life. I’ve “retired” early in my own way….by finding meaningful service to the communities that I’ve traveled too. For instance I’ve saved lives as Search and Rescue Coordinator in a beautiful coastal city in Florida. I’ve wrote laws for the County of Maui while living and enjoying the island life, I’ve lived in the Bay Area doing consulting/compliance work for all the top IT firms, I’ve even performed presidential support duties at the White House, and lots of other service while traveling and exploring and becoming part of resort communities around the nation/world. I wouldn’t want to “retire” my service to others. Because in the end it is the “service” to others that I equate to success, not my ability to travel to a location and just be a consumer. Creating takes grit and is far more difficult and ultimately far more satisfying. (Just my two cents, that’s probably worth half that – feel free to disregard). 🙂

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Excellent point! This is in the draft of my book.

      In the last chapter, I wrote “After you have your version of enough, you get to buy your time. How do you want to spend your days? It’s the one thing you can’t pawn off on your secretary. With money as servant, you alone dictate your life.”

      That’s the route I took. The “after” route. I built up my savings in a job that filled my days, but didn’t thrill my soul. After I had my version of enough, then I went looking for my passion.

      But that’s not the only order in which you can do this. Some people stumble across their passions early. They grittily and eagerly follow that passion. With their grit and eagerness, they inevitably find success. That assures them they have enough money to be happy. They love their job because it’s not a job to them. It’s not even a career. It’s a calling. A purpose.

      Lucky jerks.

      That thing you do every day? That thing you are? What’s your because? Why do you get up out of bed? It’s so warm and cozy. What’s your purpose?

  8. Rudi Schmidt

    I don’t get purpose either…interests–yes!, and many of those. Looking forward to what other readers define…and especially the ‘philosophy’ you are ‘playing with’. A super book, made better with your wonderful post.

  9. Rich B.

    Good musings. I respect you for getting out of BigLaw. I escaped too, to my own firm, which has its own challenges. Great that you’re pursuing adventure and travel and writing. The latter is hard work. (Read “the Real Work,” a short impactful poem by Wendell Berry.) Your last point on grit is a tough one. Often hard to see where or how one makes a difference.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I love this poem. Thank you for pointing it out to me. I normally hate poetry, so never would have sought it on my own. I’ve now read this thing a few times and love it more each time.

      The Real Work by Wendell Berry

      It may be that when we no longer know what to do
      we have come to our real work,

      and that when we no longer know which way to go
      we have come to our real journey.

      The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

      The impeded stream is the one that sings.

  10. Dominique

    I actually first heard of Angela Duckworth a couple days ago. A friend invited me to Thrive Global’s event where Angela Duckworth talked about grit. It was this past weekend. I missed the event, but wanted to share how funny I think the universe works. I came across your post through multiple touchpoints that originated on LinkedIn. A Forbes writer had interviewed you on your early retirement. I checked out Power of Thrift and got carried away to this post. This was just today.

    Happy to see our peers do what they love! I have to follow those points more. Regarding thrifting, I already bring my lunch to work everyday, and my friends call me frugal to say the least. I just need to figure out the income aspect =)

    Great writing!

  11. zeejaythorne

    Resilience studies have also shown it is a necessary trait to get out of poverty. It’s not enough on its own; there must be luck and the right set of circumstances, but resilience and grit are absolutely the biggest part of it.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Yeah, there was a bit about poverty in this book that made me terribly sad. Poor children learn a lot of helplessness experiences which makes it difficult to cultivate grit. It’s not suffering that makes you miserable. It’s suffering that you think you can’t control. When life kicks you down from the very beginning, it takes a very special person to keep getting up.

      1. zeejaythorne

        Extremely special. I know that some researchers/educators are trying to figure out how to help folks be resilient, but I don’t know what they’ve come up with.

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