May 24, 2013
What does it take to succeed? For a while, people thought IQ was the best predictor of future success. The smarter you are, the more you will succeed. You are born with a certain IQ that determines how far you can go in life.
At the end of the 20th century, some PhDs suggested that EQ—emotional intelligence—is a better predictor of success. If you are self-aware, socially-adept, and self-managed, you will outpace even those who are smarter.
Angela Duckworth, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has another idea. This, she feels, is the dividing line between success and failure. She calls it Grit.
That’s Grit not grits. Although, a bowl of grits makes me feel successful.
Kate Hopkins via Compfight
According to Ms. Duckworth, Grit is passion and perseverance over the long-term in pursuit of a goal. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future over the years. Grit is living life like it is a marathon not a sprint.
If your like me, you may be wondering, “How gritty am I?” Fortunately, she has a test on her website. You can get your grit score here.
I think her emphasis on Grit is important. Here are three ways it resonates with my experience.
1) Talent isn’t Everything
Do you remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? Who was the more talented runner? The Hare, of course. He was probably 10 times faster than the poor little turtle. It was like me racing Usain Bolt.
So, how did the slow-footed, carapace-toting turtle win? He had grit. The hare had none.
Talent isn’t everything and, to me, that’s a good thing. It means we all have a chance to succeed. We aren’t helplessly bound by our genes. Life is what we make of it, not simply what’s made for us.
How much time do we spend comparing ourselves to others around us? She is a better mother. He is a better writer. They are a better organization. I continually measure myself against the talent of others. When I don’t measure up, I think about quitting. When I score well—when I feel more talented—I get complacent and slack off.
Because, deep inside, I still think talent is everything. Well, it’s not.
True Grit matters.
There will always be more talented people. But without Grit, they will fail. Average talent applied will always outpace better talent unapplied. (you can tweet that)
2) Failure is not the End
I hate losing. I hate failing. But, if Ms. Duckworth is right, failure is not the end. There are actually some good things about failure. People with True Grit understand this.
(Check out these 16 benefits of failure)
In fact, if you are going to succeed, you will fail often.
Failure will redirect you.
Failure will motivate you.
Failure will awaken you.
Failure will strengthen you.
Failure will develop your Grit.
This is Good News for Failures like me.
3) Not Quitting is a Strategy
Sometimes I am trying to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle and I simply do not know what to do. I have no clue.
This idea reminds me of the most important solution—don’t quit.
How do you run a marathon? Start running and don’t stop until the finish line.
How do you write a book? Start writing words and don’t stop until you have enough.
How do I develop a skill? Start practicing and don’t stop until you have completed 10,000 hours.
Sure this is oversimplified, but it is true. If you keep trying, keep moving forward you will eventually find a solution. That’s how Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone. They started and did not stop until—after thousands and thousands of experiments—it worked.
Life is a marathon. Those who come out of the gate sprinting will not win. Those who are distracted by the cheering crowds will not win. Those who stop when the race gets hard will not win.
To win—to succeed in the race of life—requires Grit.
I have a friend who decided to blog every day for an entire year. As a blogger, I can say, “That takes some grit.” Doing anything consistently for a year is hard. But it doesn’t simply take Grit, it develops it. Taking on a longer-term project and seeing it to completion is one of the best ways to get Gritty.
If you are not happy with your Grit Score, perhaps you should do the same as my friend. Decide on a project that will require more than 6 months to complete (ideally, no longer than a year). Make sure it is something you really want to do. Then see it to completion. Don’t quit. Keep going.
At the end of that year, you will find you are a man or woman of True Grit. Or, at least, a little grittier than before.
May 22, 2013
If you had only a few months left to live, what would you do? Zach Sobiech, only 18 years old, decided to become a musical sensation and spread joy around the globe. As a goodbye to his family and friends, he wrote and recorded the song, Clouds, now seen by over 4 million people on youtube.
Zach’s medical problems began at 14 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. After years of chemotherapy and various surgeries, the doctors told Zach that they could do no more. He probably wouldn’t make it to his 19th birthday.
They were right.
On Monday, May 20th, Zach passed away. But he left the powerful story of a young man living each day with courage and laughter.
This video documents the last months of his life. It is one of the most powerful, sad, and encouraging things I have seen in a while. I hope it inspires you to take each day as a gift from God, an opportunity to make a difference.
What would you do if you were in Zach’s place?
May 18, 2013
College graduation is our culture’s ultimate celebration of freedom and independence. Official parchment in hand, graduates toss aside their cap like the fetters of the past. The commencement speaker opens with Dr. Suess and closes with an optimistic charge, “Your future lies before you!”
However, how many of those graduates will actually be different 20 years down the road? How many will escape their past and create a different future?
Why? A little force called Gravity.
While we understand gravity in its basic form (i.e. when I drop something it falls to the ground), it is one of the more difficult physical laws to explain. Sir Isaac Newton put it this way:
Proposition VII Theorem VII. That there is a power of gravity tending to all bodies, proportional to the several quantities of matter which they contain.
In more plain English, gravity is an attraction between bodies, objects and particles—one object pulls another object towards itself. The bigger the object, the stronger its gravity. So, in the case of the Earth, it pulls at you with enough force to keep you grounded to the dirt while spinning and swirling through space. Bigger planets have an even greater pull. Smaller bodies, like the moon, have less.
This “gravitational pull” is what keeps the dancing planets of our solar system from flinging off into the recesses of the universe. It keeps us grounded.
What does gravity have to do with graduation?
I think there is a form of gravity that acts upon us when we try to move away from our past. This gravity is found all around us—in our culture and community. It is pulling on you right now. You can’t see it, but its there.
Every culture has a set of agreed upon values. For example, in America, we value freedom. We are, after all, the land of the free. We hate any king or government that tries to impose itself upon our freedom. If we want to walk outside naked in the pouring rain, by golly, who’s to tell us we can’t.
In Bosnia, where I live, people value relationships. Coffee is not a drink, it is a communal experience. There is no such thing as “too much time” with friends. And if a friend needs something—anything—you go out of your way to help them.
People tend to value what their culture values. Of course, you don’t realize you have those values until you leave your culture. Just send an American to Bosnia and watch the awkward reaction when he tries to leave after (gasp) only one hour of coffee. Or send a Bosnian to America and see the frantic look on her face trying to keep pace with her busy friends.
Cultural gravity holds us to our home culture.
We are also members of smaller units within our culture. Most people, these days, call them tribes. Hipster. Jock. Goth. Ivy League. Our tribe has its own gravitational pull. It works to maintain the stability of the group.
What happens when a hipster trades in his fixie bike for a suit and four-door sedan? Or when the starting defensive tackle wants to study on the weekend instead of celebrating the team’s win?
The tribe resists the change. They call him a nerd. They label her a sell-out. They pull back towards the center.
Why do you think that so many ground-breaking artists lived and worked alone? It was the only way they could escape the conventions and rules of the artistic community.
Our tribes exert a self-preserving gravity that can either keep us grounded or hold us back from the change we desire.
Perhaps the most powerful gravitational force in life comes from family—the power of both nature and nurture.
The 2002 Tom Hanks film, Road to Perdition, is the story of one man fighting for his son against the gravitational pull of family history. Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hit man for the mob. His only desire is for his son, Michael Jr., not to follow in his footsteps. But the gravity is strong.
When Michael Jr. picks up a gun in one of the final scenes of the movie, the audience is left wondering, “Is it possible to escape the past?”
For some, the past pulls too hard.
In many ways, Michael Jr. is fortunate. His father wants him to escape the family gravity. How much harder is it for those whose parents are the source of that gravitational pull?
Family surrounds us. Family is in us. And for those who want a different future, it is hard to escape.
In order for a rocket to make it to space, it must defeat earth’s gravitational pull. The speed required for such a success is called escape velocity.
The same is true in life. It is possible to escape the gravity of the past, but it takes a tremendous amount of focus and velocity. It’s about as hard as putting a man on the moon, but it’s doable.
If you are fighting gravity, the best plan is to spend time around the people, tribes, and cultures you want to emulate. Use their gravity as a force in your favor. Your future looks like the people around you. Make sure you surround yourself with the right ones.
Some rocket fuel also helps.
So, graduates, your future is before you. But unless you apply some focused velocity, it will look just like your past. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. It’s called life. Welcome to the party.
What gravitational force is strongest in your life?
What is your rocket fuel? Let me know in the comments.
A little bonus. John Mayer, Gravity.
May 13, 2013
There is more than one kind of motivation. One type tries to encourage you by pretending everything is better than it really is. The other (in my opinion, better) type is honest about reality, but hopeful in the face of challenges.
In 2005, writer David Foster Wallace addressed the graduating class of Kenyon College in what was, perhaps, the most honest commencement speech of the modern era. To some, his honesty may come across as de-motivation. But his call to awareness is powerful.
This week, as you shuffle between meetings, sit in rush hour traffic, and type countless emails, remember to keep your eyes open. With the right perspective, meaning can flood even the most mundane reality.
May 6, 2013
This weekend I watched two films about Eric Liddell, an Olympic sprinter known as the the Flying Scotsman. Born in China to missionaries, he was a devout Christian. He was scheduled to run the 100 meter for the United Kingdom at the 1924 Paris Olympics, but refused to run because the qualifying heat was on a Sunday. The olympic committee, after failing to convince him to change his mind, let him run the 400 meter instead. He won gold in Olympic record time.
After the Olympics he was a national hero. However, at the height of his popularity, he left to carry on his parents work as a missionary in China. When the Japanese invaded China in 1941, he chose to stay and work in a rural mission station serving the sick and injured. Eventually, his mission was overrun by the Japanese and he was sent to an internment camp. In 1945, at the age of 43, he died in occupied China.
Eric Liddell famously said, “God made me for a purpose and when I run I feel His pleasure.”
I wonder what you were made for? What is your purpose? What causes you to feel God’s pleasure? If you know, are you doing it?
Here’s to a week of doing what we were made for. This clip from the 1981 film Chariots of Fire reenacts Eric Liddell’s gold metal run.