As a new enterprise just beginning to probe the psychology of success, I took the time to talk to some of the leaders in business; athletics, art, medicine, journalism, and law: Who are the people at the very top of there field? What are they really like? What do they really think makes them so special? More than one business person mentioned that they had an appetite for taking financial risks.
However, this seemed entirely beside the point for artists, who instead mentioned a drive to create: “I like making stuff all the time. I don’t know why, but I do.” In contrast, athletes mentioned a different kind of motivation, one drives by the thrill of victory: “Winner’s love to go head-to-head with other people. True winners hate losing.” No matter what the field may be. The most successful people were lucky and talented. I’d heard all of that before, and I never really doubted it.
But, ladies and gentlemen, the story of success didn’t end there. Many of the people I talked with could also recount tales of rising stars who, to everyone’s surprise, drop out or lost interest before they could realize there real potential. Apparently, it was critically important and not at all easy to keep going no matter what, after failure: A lot of people are great when things are going really well, but they fall apart when things are not going well. High achievers described in these interviews really stuck it out refusing to give up:
This one guy, he wasn’t actually the very best writer at the beginning. I mean, we used to read his stories and have a big laugh because the writing was so, well you know, off the wall, clumsy and melodramatic. However, he got better and better, last year this guy won a Guggenheim. And they were constantly driven to improve: She is never satisfied, my God, you think she would be by now, but she’s her own worst critic. The highly accomplished were Paragons of perseverance in the biggest possible way.
But why were the highly accomplished so dogged in there pursuit? For most, there was no realistic expectation of ever catching up to there ambitions. It was like wild horses dragging them away, in there own eyes, they were never ever good enough. And yet, in a very real sense, they were satisfied being unsatisfied. Each was chasing something of unparalleled interests and importance, and it was the chase as much as the capture that was gratifying. Even if some of the things they had to do were extremely boring, or frustrating, or even painful, they wouldn’t dream of ever giving up. Their burning passion, was enduring to say the least.
In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two different ways. First there exemplars were unusually resilient and hard-working. Second, they knew in a very deep way what it was that they really wanted. They did not only have determination, they also had direction.
It was this combination of having a burning passion and perseverance that made high Achievers special. In a word, they had grit. For me, the question became: How do you measure something so intangible? I sit down in front of my desk, looking over some of my interview notes. And I begin writing questions that captured, sometimes verbatim, descriptions of what it means to have grit. Half of my questions were about perseverance. They asked how much you agree with statements like “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge” and “I finish whatever I begin.”
The other half of the questions were about passion. They asked whether your “interests change from year to year” and the extent to which you have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.” What emerged was the grit scale-a test, something that my partner Alan and I had read about, consisting of eight to twelve questions, that, when taken honestly, will measure the extent to which you approach life with grit.
The separation of grit and talent emerged in a study that my partner Allen ran on Ivy League undergraduates. Their SAT scores and Grit were in fact, inversely correlated. Students in that select sample who had higher SAT scores were, on average just a little less gritty than there peers. Putting together this finding with the other data I’d collected, I came to a fundamental insight that would guide some of my future work: Our potential is one thing, however, what we do with it is definitely quite another.
Whether we realize it or not, my dear friends, the culture in which we live, and with which we identify, powerfully shapes just about every aspect of our life. As its core, a culture is defined by the shared norms and values of a group of people. In the long run, culture has the power to shape our entire destiny. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong becomes our own.
Identity influence every aspect of our individual character, however, it has special relevance to grit. Often, the critical gritty-or-not decisions we make-to get up one more time; and stick it out through this miserable, exhausting summer; to run ten miles with our teammates when on our own we might only run four-are a matter of identity more than anything else.
In our quest, to really understand what gives rise to Grit, I’ve encountered a few organizations with especially gritty leaders at the helm who, in my personal view have successfully forged a culture of grit. Let us consider for example, Jamie Dimon, who had been the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the absolute largest bank in the United States, for more than a decade. Jamie isn’t the only one of the bank’s 250,000-plus employees who says, “I wear this jersey and I bleed this blood.”
In the 2008 financial crisis, Jamie steered his bank to safety, and JP Morgan Chase somehow turning a $5 billion profit. Coincidentally, the motto of Jamie’s Prep School Alma mater, the Browning School, is grytte, an Old English version of grit defined in an 1897 yearbook as “firmness, courage, determination…” “you have to learn to get over those bumps in the road and mistakes and the setbacks,” Jamie told my partner when he called to talk about the culture that he’s build at JP Morgan Chase. Failures are going to happen, and how you actually deal with them may just be the most important thing in whether you will succeed. You need to take responsibility. You call it grit, I call it fortitude.”
The very first football game that I had ever watch from beginning to end was Super Bowl XLVIII. The game took place on February 2nd 2014, and pitted the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks won, that game 43 to 8. The next day after the victory, the Seahawks head coach Peter Carroll was interviewed by a former member of the San Francisco 49ers, who asked him: What is that philosophy, what does it mean to be a Seahawk? Pete chuckle Softly. I’m not going to give it all to you, but I will tell you that we are looking for great competitors.
That’s really where it starts. And that’s the guys that really have Grit. The mindset, that they are always going to succeed, no matter what, that they’ve got something to prove. They are resilient, they are not going to let any setbacks hold them back. They are not going to be deterred, you know, by challenges and hurdles and things, you see my friends it’s that attitude- we-really refer to as Grit.
Two years after that wonderful Super Bowl, my partner got on a plane to Seattle. He had told me that he wanted to see first-hand what Peter meant when he said the Seahawks were building the grittiest culture in the NFL. Making it to the championship game in successive years is notoriously very hard, however, the Seahawks had Define the odds and made it to the Superbowl again that year. In sharp contrast to the prior year’s win, which Seattle fans celebrated with a blue and green ticket-tape parade that was the largest public gathering in Seattle’s history, this year’s loss resulted in howling, a lot of weeping and the gnashing of angry teeth-over what sports commentators deemed the worse call in NFL history.
Okay, here’s a recap: with only 26 seconds on the clock, the Seahawks have possession of the ball and are only one yard away from a game-winning touchdown. Everyone expects Pete to call a running plate-the Seahawks have Marshawn Lynch, widely agree to be the single best running back in the entire NFL. Instead, the Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson throws a pass, the ball is intercepted, and the New England Patriots took home the trophy.
What really interested my partner when he arrived in Seattle was Pete’s reaction and that of the entire team. My partner and I wanted to know how a culture of grit continues not just in the after-growth of success, but in the aftermath of failure. We both wanted to know how Pete and the Seahawks found the courage to continue. He had told my partner that it was not just one thing, it’s a million things, it’s a million details. The most obvious is language. One of Pete’s coaches once said, I speak fluent Carroll. And to speak Carroll is to speak fluent Seahawk: Always and always, compete. You’re either competing or you’re not. Compete in everything you do. You’re a Seahawk 24/7, finish strong. Positive self-talk. Team-first.
Everybody that he met peppered there sentences with those Carrollisms. “Compete,” he was told, it is not about triumphing over others, a notion I’ve always been uneasy about. Compete means excellence. Compete comes from the Latin,” explained Mike Gervais, the competitive surfer-turned-Sports-psychologist who is one of Pete’s partners in culture building. Quite literally, it means strive together. It really doesn’t have anything in its origins about another person or group losing.
Mike told my partner that two key factors promote excellence in all individuals and in teams deep and Rich support & Relentless challenges to improve for this professional football team: deep and rich support and relentless challenge to improve. For this professional football team, it’s not about defeating other teams, it’s about pushing and pushing beyond what you can do today, breaking down that wall of doubt, so that tomorrow you are just a little bit better, it’s all about excellence.
After one of the meetings, an assistant coach caught up to my partner Allen in the hallway and said, I don’t really know if anyone’s mentioned finishing to you. One thing we really believe in here is the idea of always finishing strong. Then he gave my partner an example: Seahawks finishing a game strong, playing there hearts out to the last second on that clock. Seahawks finish the season strong. Seahawks finish every drill extremely strong. For the Seahawks, finishing doesn’t literally mean finishing. Finishing strong memes consistently focusing and doing your very best at every moment, from the very start to the finish.
At the end of that day, my partner was in the lobby waiting for a taxi. Pete was there with him making sure that he got off OK. Then my partner realize he hadn’t asked him directly how he and the Seahawks found the courage to continue after he’d made the worst call in his career. Pete later told sport Illustrated that it wasn’t the worst decision, it was the worst possible outcome. He explained that like every other negative experience, and every other positive one, it always becomes part of you. I am not going to ignore it. I’m going to face it, and when it bubbles up, I’m going to just think about it and get on with it. And use it, and use it.
My friends, the best investment that you can ever make in life is an investment in yourself. You must have the courage to believe in you, to believe in your dreams, to have the courage to follow your heart. Yes you will more than likely experience some failures however, you must build a burning desire, a burning passion in what you are doing so you will have the Inner strength to not give up. To take action and push forward with all of your mind heart and spirit, all that you need is already within you.
May Prosperity be always with you.
Humbly yours Paul Earl.
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