Grit

Every summer before going off to college, I worked with my dad at his Powder Coating business. For those who aren’t familiar with the trade, a typical day involved carrying metal furniture, car parts, and other widgets on hooks, into and out of a 450-degree oven the size of a standard suburban bedroom. Most days the sweat on the tips of my ears would start to burn and evaporate every time I made a trip to grab a new chaise lounge or mailbox from the middle of the oven. I still have a few scars from a careless moment, here and there, where my skin came in contact with a freshly baked piece of metal.

As you might expect, I didn’t like this job. It was hard work and I didn’t get paid much. I had to get up early each morning during my vacation and slave away, while some of my friends from the neighborhood were sleeping in and swimming all day.

Looking back, however, I have grown to appreciate the life-lessons imposed upon me during my short and awkward tenure as a blue-collar child laborer. Not only did I get first-hand experience with what it takes to run a successful small business, but I also developed a solid work ethic. My dad taught me grit through blood, sweat, tears, and the occasional burn.

As it turns out, more and more, grit is being identified as an essential skill in business as the Thought Worker continues to replace the Factory Worker. Grit is the ultimate replacement and augment to raw intelligence, or IQ. More and more people are worried about what you have accomplished over the past one, three, or five years and not where you went to school or your GPA. Accomplishment is the new pedigree.

For example, salespeople who make more calls will almost always outperform salespeople who make fewer calls. That’s no surprise, but here’s the key point: This doesn’t happen just because the act of making more calls mathematically raises the chances of success. There’s much more to it. By facing up to the task of making a call, frequent callers put themselves on a faster learning curve. They discover more rapidly what works and what doesn’t. They’re quicker to learn techniques that overcome rejection. Thus, their success yield will improve–i.e., double the calls, triple the sales. The act of making lots of calls also helps a person learn self-discipline and understand the rewards of delayed gratification. - Forbes

Looking back on my career, I can point to some key situations where I’ve had to outwork a particular problem. Sometimes, this involved simply sticking through a tough situation until it could be resolved. Others were more tactical, where I was up against a challenging issue that required some extra effort to solve. These are moments in life where I couldn’t rely on my IQ or someone else to come bail me out - it was up to me to get through it. I think that all of the long hours at my dad’s shop helped prepare me for situations like this, and I’m better off for it. I wish I had the foresight to understand this 15 years ago.

Grit plays a significant factor in your ability to succeed from your first year of school until the day you retire - and probably after that as well. Fortunately, it is something that is developed, you don’t have to be one of the “lucky few” who are born with the gift of grit. Unfortunately, the only way to get more of it is to work harder - there are no shortcuts. Work hard at something, get better at it, work even harder, get even better.

Interested in learning more? Here’s a great TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth on the role grit plays in how we succeed.

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