Grit to Great : How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary
September 08, 2015
Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval remind us that, while big dreams and big ideas are great, we have to get a little gritty to accomplish them.
Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, authors of The Power of Nice and The Power of Small, dive into another power—the power of grit—in their new book, Grit to Great. If you are reading this, you most likely have a decent amount of ambition, a desire to be better at work, a striving for excellence in your life as a whole. Koval and Thaler take a brief look back to the Greek Philosophers to tell us that:
Aristotle, writing about the virtues of hard work, said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit."
It is a penchant for continually doing, for persevering, for outlasting, that takes us from our ordinary talents to outstanding achievement. It is the ability to outwork others that is the surest indicator of success. It is not in our genes or any inborn talent, but in our diligence, our good old-fashioned grit and gumption. And it is, in our day and age, considered somewhat old-fashioned. The authors put the blame flatly on the self-esteem movement that began in the 1960s and has spread across the country, leaving a wake of cheap plastic trophies for participation in it's wake.
Unfortunately, the whole self-esteem movement has been a flop, undermining the natural grit that this nation of immigrants brought with them in building a new life in a new land.
Self esteem, it turns out, doesn't help us achieve anything. Putting yourself out there, putting in the work and participating in life is the only way to get anything out of it. Instead of waiting for passion to strike, or finding out what is you'd really love to do, you must simply start doing. That is when passion strikes. And no one else, no higher power, no inborn or innate talent will get you there without you putting in the work to back it up.
You may not succeed at first. Koval and Thaler tell us some familiar stories—Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he built, Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens never made it through elementary school—to hammer the point home. It is not only important to develop grit in yourself, either. It is just as important to allow its development in others, to let them fail and fall and learn for themselves. We naturally tend to want to protect those we love, but weaning ourselves of that tendency can actually teach them to protect themselves.
Speaking of teaching her daughter Emily to ride a bike, a task Linda and her husband had been attempting for two years with no success, Linda tells us of a how a "bemused bike rider in his mid-seventies" happened by and helped with some sage advice:
"Anyone can learn to ride a bike. Let me show you."
The man walked over to Emily and had her sit down, place her hands on the handlebars, and put her feet on the pedals.
"Now, Mom, what you need to do," he said confidently, "is take your hands, and ever so carefully, put them in your pockets."
"But, but... " I pleaded.
The man gave Emily a gentle push. She fell. I rushed to pick her up, but he stopped me.
Emily got back up on the bike again, and fell again. My hands were trembling, but I kept them pinned to my pockets.
Emily got back up on the bike a third time, and kept on riding. And riding. She went on to become a proficient cyclists, and now, in her twenties, is an expert horseback rider, figure skater, and all around wonderfully balanced young woman. I am proud to say I had a hand in her many accomplishments. Mostly because I had the good sense to keep both of them in my pockets.
The world of business books is often one of big ideas, big dreams, and blue sky thinking. And that's great. We all need a little inspiration to think big and change the world. But it is in the everyday accomplishment of one thing after another that we do it, in placing our hands on the handlebars and taking responsibility of our own direction that we can begin to accomplish even the smallest of goals. That is why books like Grit to Great are so important. Like anything else, it is not going to accomplish those things for you, but reading it will give you some of the tools and put you in the state of mind to do them. As the authors say...
There's an old Yiddish proverb that, loosely translated, goes something like this: If you want your dreams to become reality, wake up already.
Too often, the whole gauzy adage of "following your dream" has taken the place of more attainable aspirations: setting your sights on a goal, formulating a plan, charting a path, steadily working your way forward from milepost to milepost. While the dreamers are still sleeping, the doers are taking victory laps, because they had the sense to wake up and get to work. They put themselves in the grit state of mind.
To get yourself in the grit state of mind, get yourself a copy of Grit to Great.
We have 20 copies available.