Why “Grit” Is The Real Key To Success

If you don’t have it, you need to find it

  • Justin Zoradi
Why “Grit” Is The Real Key To Success

Inspired and borrowed in parts from Drive - by Daniel Pink.

Each summer, about twelve hundred young American men and women arrive at the United States Military Academy at West Point to begin four years of study. But before any of them sees a classroom, they go through seven weeks of Cadet Basic Training. By the time the summer ends, 1 in 20 of these talented, dedicated young adults will drop out.

A group of researchers wanted to understand why some students continued on the road toward military mastery and the others got off at the first exit. Was it physical strength and athleticism? Intellect? Leadership ability? Well-roundedness?

None of the above.

The best predictor of success, the researchers found, was the cadets’ ratings on a non-cognitive, non-physical trait knows as “Grit.”

In her excellent TED Talk on this very research, Angela Duckworth describes Grit as,

“…perseverance and passion for long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out. Not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

Grit is that special force that gets you down in the dirt. Grit is toil. Grit is the slow burn, over time, that nearly kills you, and yet, it’s the best indicator for success. So much so, that researchers found in every field, Grit was just as important as talent.

How about that?!

For college students, it was grittiness, rather than IQ or standardized test scores that was the most accurate predictor of college grades.

Grit is inspiring.

Because Grit is such a powerful indicator for success, it becomes the life-blood of some of the world’s greatest stories.

Grit is the homeless teen in Georgia who becomes valedictorian. Grit is the impoverished kids in Paraguay who perform with recycled orchestra instruments from landfills. Grit is Rocky Balboa, the Mighty Ducks, and JK Rowling when Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before being published.

Grit is practical.

If you didn’t know, I’m a massive soccer fan. Soccer is an acquired taste like beer or coffee – or baseball. While it can be thrilling and dramatic, there are times where, and I hate to admit it, it can be kind of boring. The thing I’ve learned as I’ve really begun to study the game is a key difference between good teams and great teams.

Good teams win when they play well. Great teams “grind out wins” when they’re playing poorly. It’s not pretty, there are few fireworks, but they defend well, they keep the ball, and they toil their way to a 1-0 or 2-1 victory. This is the short-term sports version of Grit. It’s not inspiring, but it works.

Grit is the key.

While talent is helpful, Grit is the X factor to long-term success. If you don’t have it, you need to find it. If you already have it, don’t waste it on something stupid.

Despite the advancements in neuroscience and biotechnology, Grit is remarkably hard to nail down. Some say you have to experience great adversity to get it. Others just seem to be born with it. At this point in time, there is no formula for how to harness and cultivate Grit.

I believe the science comes up short on Grit because it is intensely personal and subjective.

Grit is something deep within you. It’s the soul of your work that only you can access. (<-- Tweet That)

This brings us to today – to you and your work and your deepest purpose. How can you develop Grit? How have you already done so? You’ll see my personal answer in the comment section below. I’d love to hear yours.

- JZ

Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us - Daniel Pink

Photo Credit
US Army, Flickr Creative Commons

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Comments (15)

  • Justin Zoradi

    Justin Zoradi

    15 August 2013 at 01:30 |
    Looking back on my career with These Numbers Have Faces, the thing I'm most proud of as it pertains to me me personally, is the fact that I've just kept showing up to the office each day. I drink coffee on the way, I get in about the same time, routine, routine, routine. This routine has helped me develop Grit.

    Also, the terrible weather in Portland has helped me develop Grit. During the winter and spring when it rains a lot, it really feels like you're slogging through your day wherever you go. This daily habit of dealing with the rain, I think has also helped me build Grit. I'm thankful for that.
    • Dionne Rachael

      Dionne Rachael

      06 September 2013 at 15:25 |
      I was born with Grit as my mother would agree. I have always had an inner resilience to anything that opposes what my spirit and soul yearn for. It is not always easy but it is worth every sweat, tear, and ultimate peace that comes with knowing that you can do it - not to prove to the world that you can, but to your own self. You can do it.
  • Fernando


    15 August 2013 at 12:15 |
    I find difficulty in determine when it is time to change what you're doing versus keep going in the same direction without reward because sometimes the decision to change feels like you are quitting or giving up.
    • Dionne Rachael

      Dionne Rachael

      06 September 2013 at 15:31 |
      I can relate to your statement Fernando. I am currently working through something like that. I am resigning from a job that makes me miserable to pays the bills to pursue a degree in Film and Cinematography in a city I have never visited. I have asked myself all the questions that I could possibly ask myself and the answer is always the same...listen to the inner voice that leads and guides my spirit. I have and will never go wrong with trusting my Divine Creator.
      • Dionne Rachael

        Dionne Rachael

        06 September 2013 at 15:33 |
        *miserable but pays the bills
  • Dani Kreeft

    Dani Kreeft

    15 August 2013 at 16:41 |
    As Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art, “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” Since coming back from New York in May and getting SCHOOLED on what it takes to compete with my industry competitors, the single thing that has changed the progress of my company has been persistence in just showing up at my desk at 9 am every morning. Just show up and stay there when every urge is to get distracted, to lose focus, to do other things. Stay persistent.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      19 August 2013 at 06:55 |
      You got it Dani! Glad your NY experience was so valuable. "In Pressfield we trust."
  • Lori Ventola

    Lori Ventola

    15 August 2013 at 17:23 |
    But it's not like in the movies, is it? Having grit doesn't mean you're some kinda of special, extra-strong person. I wouldn't say I have grit about everything in my life. FAR from it. Just the one or two things I know for sure. Just the stuff that has to happen or my life won't be what it was supposed to have been.

    And part of the persistence is pushing through the weakness. There's a paradox, eh? The grit shows up when I get out of bed on a day I don't think I can, or make a phone call that leaves me collapsed in tears afterward. It's a gift, not something that I can take any credit for, for sure.
  • janet carter

    janet carter

    16 August 2013 at 14:44 |
    I think grit is the thing that allows some to get dangerously close to the edge without going over. Grit and faith. Tough combination to beat. Tough combination to live.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      19 August 2013 at 19:29 |
      I like that Janet. Grit + Faith. A very tough combination.
  • Collin Babcock

    Collin Babcock

    16 August 2013 at 16:48 |
    I just completed SEALFIT's 3 Week Warrior Academy and Kokoro Camp. Kokoro is 50 hours of Hell week simulation. Sleep not included. The grit that I witnessed my teammates display hour by hour by hour was so inspirational. No matter how many times Melanie or Danielle got sent into the ice bath they came out. hypothermic or close to it they pushed through their fears and continued. I got off easy. I got hardly any special attention. All of my teammates worked much harder and overcame so much adversity and displayed more grit than sandpaper.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      19 August 2013 at 06:59 |
      You are the epitome of Grit, Collin
  • Neil Bruinsma

    Neil Bruinsma

    17 August 2013 at 18:18 |
    Good post Justin. I work to help 20 somethings actually go somewhere in life and this was on my list last week of things they need. Many don't have it. Thanks for the thoughts.
    • Justin Zoradi

      Justin Zoradi

      19 August 2013 at 17:26 |
      Awesome Neil. They do need it. I hope you can pass some of this on to them!
  • ERick


    19 August 2013 at 05:04 |
    So that's what it's called. GRIT. Sent this blog to my son so he knows what it takes to manifest whatever he wants. Thanks Justin.

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