We generally think that success – however we define or measure it – depends on one’s intelligence and skills. While they are undoubtedly crucial factors, success does not entirely rely on them according to Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth. In her study, she discovered another determining factor that does not involve the IQ, and that is the intangible but clearly observable, grit. Listening to her 6-minute TED Talk video, I was surprised to know my driving force in all my tribulations in life is actually called grit.
Life was not that smooth-sailing for me in the past few years up until now, but I don’t allow it to pin me down. School wasn’t always that easy for me as well. I’m not being negative here (far from it in fact), but whoever said things would be easy? There are a few things that I do to put on my grit-ness and I would like to share to everybody what worked for me in developing the will and determination to face and overcome my battles.
Know Your Pace
Knowing your pace in accomplishing tasks is the best first step in facing your giants. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses, and dealing with each requires different approaches. As for me, math has always been the rocks on my stream. Elementary math was easy enough for me, but when I got to high school and college, my world slowly became as complicated as the problems in the test papers. I soon realized that I created my own slimy pit by thinking about how difficult numbers are and how pitifully slow I am in figuring them out. THAT was a serious mistake.
But with what seemed like divine intervention, I told myself “girl, you don’t need to be at par with those math whizzes… all you need to do is pass and get this subject over with!” This did not make me an instant genius but it made me extra diligent. It definitely took lots of time trying to solve math problems. At the end of the semester, I passed. My grade was not exceptional, but the feeling of having tried your best and pass is just so sweet!
While facing those academic difficulties, I could’ve given up. I could’ve just dropped the class, or maybe move to a different university or shift to another course where there’s no math involved. I definitely have the choice but decided to stick to it because I don’t want to waste my time and money (you have tuition fees to pay, no?). I’m sure this does not only work on those with math problems but also to those who have difficulties coping with other subjects like literature. We learn differently so your pace is equally different from your seatmate, bestfriend, sibling, co-worker, everybody!
Develop Optimism and Positivity
Once you get to know more about yourself and embrace the fact that you’re a unique individual, it should be reinforced with positivity. We don’t want that profound self-awareness to lead to discouragement, lack of motivation or worse, surrender. I notice that despite having a high self-esteem, I still get affected by criticisms regardless of how constructive they could be, let alone those that are destructive and unfounded. What do I do in order to bounce back? I choose to look at the brighter side of things and I believe optimism fuels the passion and grit inside of us.
I have this sort of mantra of encouragement that whenever I get so down, I would repeatedly remind myself that “I’m not ALL THAT”. If I fail in something, I could always try again. Again, it’s not being defensive. It’s just my way of reminding myself of the times I got commended and encouraged for doing things right, for I surely need a dose of it. According to therapist Dr. Kenneth Barish, persistent criticism is deeply destructive to any child’s initiative and perseverance. If I won’t remind myself that, who will? Plus, Dr. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset tells us that failure is not a permanent condition. If science tells us that failures are a natural part of life and that they’re temporary, why should we allow ourselves to dwell on such a miserable state?
Look at the Faces of Inspiration
These could be the face of your family, friends, mentors, favorite celebrities or fictional characters. The solid support you get from your family, friends and loved ones is a vital ingredient in developing grit. Success stories of popular celebrities also influence our outlooks in life.
When my father died, I was still in my first year of college, taking up an in-demand and equally expensive major. Finishing up my freshman year in university was already draining us financially, added to that the medical bills of my dad’s frequent hospitalization. On a positive note, my family became closer and I got to know who my real friends are. I got to have professors who were very understanding of my situation (working and studying at the same time) and still believed in me. Their faith in me made me stronger as a person and grittier as a pursuer of success.
I’m really inspired by the stories of success of two of the greatest novelists to date, J. K. Rowling and Stephen King. They were dirt poor and struggling to get published. But because of their grit, the world was blessed with Harry Potter and thrillers like Carrie and It. That’s why, each time I face rejections, their share of similar experiences gets me going.
The reason I took up Literature in college is because of the animated movies and series I’ve seen growing up. For some strange reason, I would easily relate to the characters despite their being entirely fictional, perhaps because of the fragments of emotional or psychological impacts of these characters on our psyche. Mulan made me a feminist. Naruto and Avatar Aang taught me grit more than anyone else. Seeing their glorious faces on posters and wall arts reminds me of their flaws, struggles and of course their victories.
Set a Higher Standard
With a small yet solid support group to back me up, a profound self-love to embrace my shortcomings and weaknesses, and inspirational people to look up to, failure no longer paralyzes me. Because of the people who believed in me and the person I want to become in the long run made me strive to bring out the best in me. I no longer settle for mediocrity. While others settle for a bachelor’s degree, some aim for a Master’s and a Doctorate degree. While others are comfortable with being a regular office-worker, others aim to be the CEO of their own company. There’s nothing wrong with being contented with what you have, but there’s also nothing wrong with aiming for something higher.
Because I want to have a brighter future, I didn’t want to settle for a routine job. I want something more – somewhere I could spread my wings wider. I left the job where I worked for 6 years and was most comfortable in. I took a leap of faith, left the company and tried my luck in a private university. I managed to adjust quite well but I also learned the hard way at times. I get disheartened, too! I could always go back to my first company when things got a bit messy but I choose to move forward, because the path ahead of me is currently my only route.
Stick to Your Long-term Goals
I love how Ms. Duckworth puts it: Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The way I understand it, grit is about knowing when to pour out your energy and when to reserve it for the next few kilometers. It gives me the notion of choosing our battles in life. If one thing is integral for success, then by all means go for it. Face the impending obstacles ahead. If another appears to be a detour, then you can always try it on your way back from the finish line.
Back in college, I pushed myself to graduate and finally got my ticket to unlimited possibilities. It took me 6 years before I could graduate. Studying and working at the same time was a killer. I was drained and exhausted by the end of the day. My nights were meant for reports and studying, so no more social life. I had to be frugal so I could pay my fees. I had the choice to completely abandon college since I already had a good-paying job back then. However, engraved in my system was the thought that education opens a lot of doors for me, that’s why I kept pressing on.
In a marathon, we aim to finish the race. In life, we aim for stability in our career, income and family. In order to achieve those goals, we need grit as runners need stamina. The finish line – our future – serves as our motivation and drive to persevere.
Life is not served to us on a silver platter.
We have to work hard to make the most out of it. We won’t always have it easy. There are times when we are on top of the world but there are also times when we’re at rock-bottom. One has to learn, practice, fail, get up, strive and succeed. The cycle continues as life goes on. Pushing yourself to the limits is essential for growth and maturity. Just don’t overdo it, though. There’s always a danger in doing things too much. In the face of challenges, analyze the situations and move forward. In the face of setbacks, pause or rest for a bit. In the face of failure, get up and try again.
Gone are the days when intelligence and talents are considered to be the sole determiners of success. While possessing such qualities is ideal, we should reinforce them with an attitude that will take us to places. Fix your eyes on the trophy that waits at the end of the race. With that pictured clearly on your mind, you’ll have the passion, determination and grit to get there no matter what. If you think you are and you have something to share with others, don’t hold back. Your story and encouragement could possibly save a life from the brink of surrender.
Now, I’d like to ask you the same question Duckworth asked in varying settings: Who is successful here? Why?
Abigail A. Sabijon is a full-time blogger, editor of scoopfed.com and a part-time ailurophile. She’s a Bachelor of Arts and Literature graduate, and she enjoys discussing and writing about everything under the sun.