Perseverance and Passion

Grit

“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

If you are like me, you may have been told “You know, you’re no genius” at some point in your life.  During her childhood, Angela Duckworth heard that phrase over and over again from her father.  Years later when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—often called the “genius grant”—she was able to savor the irony of being told that she wasn’t smart enough, and yet being recognized on an international stage for work that was cutting-edge and transformational in the field of psychology.  Duckworth was compassionate enough not to lord this over her father.  But she did write a book based on her studies which makes the case that for those who have a calling, who challenge themselves every day, who get back up when they are knocked down, perseverance and passion matter more than talent.

Grit:  The Power of Perseverance and Passion is the 2016 book that resulted from Duckworth’s life and studies.  The fundamental insight that guides her research is “Our potential is one thing.  What we do with it is quite another.”  Early in the book she recounts the time she left a job at the high-powered consulting firm McKinsey to teach seventh grade math in the inner city.  There Duckworth came to see that we are all distracted by talent.  She was naturally attracted to those students who were “quick studies” and seemed to have the intellect and skills to succeed.  But as marking periods went by, these were not necessarily the successful students.  Duckworth became interested not in what made people smart, but what was needed to be successful in life.

What she found is that people who are successful over time have a passion.  A calling.  It may take time for that passion to evolve, and they may explore several pathways before landing on the one that sticks.  But having an inner compass, the “thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately, you want to be” is critical to success.  And then you have to persevere, in the face of the inevitable failures, to reach your goals.  Duckworth notes:  “Enthusiasm is common.  Endurance is rare.”

There’s a lot to unpack in Duckworth’s book, including how experts practice differently from others, with a deliberative focus.  They make it a habit, with daily rituals.  Or how pessimists have permanent and pervasive explanations for adversity that “turn minor complications into major catastrophes.”  Hope and modeling a growth mindset, it turns out, are keys to perseverance.  Duckworth looks at how to grow grit from the inside out, ways to build an organizational culture that focuses on perseverance and passion, and parenting for grit.

Skyscape at Villa Panza

What is your calling?

Basketball coaching legend John Wooden captured the need for both perseverance and passion when he said:  “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”  One of my favorite stories in the book is from another sports coach who, as a philosophy and English major, has a special appreciation for the power of words.  Each year he has his team memorize three different literary quotes, handpicked to communicate a different core value.  The first team value is “We don’t whine.”  The corresponding quote, courtesy of playwright George Bernard Shaw:

“The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Duckworth challenges us to cultivate our interests.  Develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice.  Connect our work to a purpose beyond ourselves. And learn to hope when all seems lost.

That seems like smart—perhaps even genius-like—advice to me.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Life is Not a Rehearsal

Tommy Emmanuel is one of the world’s best guitarists, yet he’s not widely known in a field that often places glitz above skill.  As Emmanuel explains in the opening to a very entertaining TEDx talk, when he told a fellow traveler in business class that he made a living playing the guitar, he had to respond to the question “What band are you in?” with the fact that he played solo guitar. His seatmate looked at him as if Emmanuel had stumbled into the wrong section of the aircraft.

But as he thought about it, Emmanuel explained that he does, in fact, play in a band.  A one man band. In his TEDx talk he showcases the amazing skills that have made him so in demand by demonstrating how he plays the bass line, the drummer’s riff, the fills from a rhythm section, and the melody line all at once. If you’re like me, your jaw will drop with the complexity of the music and you’ll laugh at the line “look at how much money I’m saving up here!”

This is clearly someone who has found how to blend his passion with his job.  As Emmanuel describes it, he has a calling.

Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel (credit: TommyEmmanuel.com)

Angela Duckworth, the MacArthur Fellow recipient and author of Grit notes that,

“Fortunate indeed are those who have a top-level goal so consequential to the world that it imbues everything they do, no matter how small or tedious, with significance.  Consider the parable of the bricklayers:

Three bricklayers are asked:  ‘What are you doing?’

The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’

The second says, ‘I am building a church.’

And he third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’

The first bricklayer has a job.  The second has a career.  The third has a calling.”

Emmanuel is fortunate in that he recognizes that his work impacts people in special ways. He knows that what’s important is not the critics’ take on his work, but the connections he makes with those who come to hear him play. Connection with others is not just a musician’s stock-in-trade, but is a skill many of us—not fortunate enough to have killer guitar chops—find important in taking a job to a calling.  To do work we are passionate about.  Emmanuel also notes that none other than the great Chet Atkins called him “the most fearless guitar player he’d ever heard.”  Emmanuel continues, “I think that being fearless is a huge part in breaking molds and in raising self-belief.”

Connecting with others. Fearlessness in what we do.  Building self-belief.  Remembering that you are the master of your own obituary.  Or, as Tommy Emmanuel says it at the end of his talk:  “Life is not a rehearsal, so you’d better get on with it.”

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

P.S. – For you Jason Isbell fans, in the video above you can hear Tommy play and Jason sing on a signature song by my first guitar hero, Doc Watson, from Tommy’s most recent album Accomplice One.  Enjoy.