Grit & Growth
Why are some people more successful than others?
By Ryker Marshall
Edited by Jonny Belk
We live in a world of schoolteachers, soldiers, waste management specialists, CEOs, presidents, scientists, university professors, police officers, retail workers, and forklift drivers. Among these people, individuals will see varying levels of success within their own fields. Why is it that some people are more successful than others?
From an early age, children show signs of traits that can predict whether they will succeed in life. In her TED talk, Angela Lee Duckworth explains that some of her best students didn’t have the highest IQs, and some of her smartest students weren’t doing well in the class.
IQ wasn’t nearly as strong of a predictor of success as had been expected. Angela found that a much more consistent predictor of success was a thing called grit – a consistent determination and perseverance to succeed in accomplishing one’s goals over long periods of time, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
A related concept to grit is growth mindset – the belief that our minds and abilities can be improved through hard work and dedication. In her Stanford Alumni speech, Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, explores the growth mindset and discusses the power of yet. Successful people don’t look at failure and think, “I can’t do that.” Rather, they look at failure and think, “I can’t do that yet.”
These two traits are so powerful and so influential in our lives that they are now taught in college business and personal health classes across the globe. To demonstrate what these traits are and how they can affect success in life, let’s explore a scenario.
The Ballad of Andrew and Bobby
Imagine two young boys – we’ll call them Andrew and Bobby. The boys lead nearly identical lives up until about thirteen years of age. Both boys grew up in relatively average middle-class nuclear families, exhibit average performance in school, enjoy baseball, and want to grow up to be police officers.
From thirteen years onward, the way each boy reacts to events in their lives will cause Andrew and Bobby to find themselves in distinctly different circumstances.
The story of Andrew
Shortly after his thirteenth birthday, Andrew’s parents divorced. It came as a complete shock. He didn’t know how to react, so he simply didn’t. It was decided that he would live with his mother and see his father every other weekend.
His performance in school started to suffer, and his teachers became worried about him. His English teacher, Ms. Erkhardt, scheduled a meeting with Andrew’s parents to discuss his performance. When asked why he thought his performance was suffering, he explained that he was just stupid and couldn’t do it.
Ms. Erkhardt advised that Andrew receive counseling to help him cope with the circumstance. His parents agreed. Two weeks later, Andrew began his counseling sessions.
His counselor spoke to him about understanding that it wasn’t his fault and that he had to move on and accept what was normal now. She also emphasized the importance of his education, but his mind was elsewhere. He didn’t understand why he had to sit and listen to this woman that didn’t even know him. He could make out words like “grit” and “growth mindset,” but he didn’t understand what they had to do with him.
His performance stabilized for the next few months, but teeter-tottered every few months for the next several years. He struggled throughout high school but eventually graduated with a 2.3 GPA.
Now that he was done with high school, he decided to move on with his life and fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a police officer. He had a renewed sense of determination, and he was confident he would succeed. He joined the local police academy and began training.
When he got the results back on his first written exam, he felt his heart sink. He had failed. The academy allowed for two retries on any failed exam, but the damage had already been done. Andrew’s most sensitive tool – his confidence – had been shattered. He decided that he wasn’t cut from the right cloth and dropped out of the academy.
Throughout the rest of his adult life, he bounced from job to job with a fluctuating rate of pay, but never managed to stray far from minimum wage. As retirement age approached, he had to continue working to make his bills. Andrew was unhappy with himself, but he knew that he had done the best that someone like himself could have done.
The story of Bobby
Shortly after his thirteenth birthday, Bobby’s parents divorced. It came as a complete shock. He didn’t know how to react, so he simply didn’t. It was decided that he would live with his mother and see his father every other weekend.
His performance in school started to suffer, and his teachers became worried about him. His math teacher, Mr. Floyd, scheduled a meeting with Bobby’s parents to discuss his performance. When asked why he thought his performance was suffering, he opened up and explained that he was having trouble focusing in class because he was feeling emotions that he didn’t understand.
Mr. Floyd advised that Bobby receive counseling to help him cope with the circumstance. His parents agreed. Two weeks later, Bobby began his counseling sessions.
His counselor spoke to him about understanding that it wasn’t his fault and that he had to move on and accept what was normal now. Bobby didn’t understand and asked how it was possible that what he’s going through could be normal if it was so terrible. His counselor explained to him that her parents had divorced when she was young, and that she felt all the same things he was feeling. She emphasized that this was only an obstacle, and that things would get better. For the meantime, he had to focus on improving his grades.
His counselor asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, and Bobby was reminded of his dream to be a police officer. She explained to him how important his education was to his dream. Bobby understood.
His grades stabilized, and his performance occasionally reached levels higher than he had thought possible before his parents divorced. Bobby began to realize that there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish. He began to favor the word “yet.” There was nothing he couldn’t do – there were simply things he couldn’t do yet.
He occasionally struggled with difficult topics, and his grades occasionally dipped, but he always got back up and kept pushing forward toward his dream of becoming a police officer. Bobby graduated high school with a 3.7 GPA.
When Bobby finally got to join his local police academy, he found that it was much more difficult than he had expected. He had gotten used to things becoming progressively more difficult, however, and was up to the challenge. He grinded through and graduated top of his class.
Throughout his career, Bobby would save countless lives and work his way through the ranks, eventually becoming Chief of Police. He enforced changes in the department to fight corruption and improve time-efficiency in response to emergencies – and pushed legislation to make his community a safer place.
After forty years on the job, Bobby retired with a generous pension and highly fulfilling career behind him that he would always cherish.
The difference: grit & growth
It’s clear which of these two boys grew up to lead more fulfilling lives. They faced the same obstacles yet came out with completely different results. In the end, what was it that made the difference?
Andrew showed low levels of grit. He lacked determination and perseverance to succeed in accomplishing his goals and gave up at the first sign of challenge. Over time, this caused him to develop a fixed mindset.
He believed that he simply did not have the skills necessary to succeed. Consequently, he quickly gave up on things that proved difficult and blamed himself for his failures. His mindset cost him his dream career and a fulfilling life.
Bobby, on the other hand, showed high levels of grit and developed a growth mindset. His growth mindset created a love of learning and allowed him to develop a certain resilience and hardiness that bolstered his personal grit.
When faced with challenges, Bobby rose to the occasion and overcame. When the challenges felt too great, he simply viewed them as something he couldn’t overcome yet. He understood that he would continue to grow and would one day be able to overcome those challenges.
Final thoughts: Be like Bobby
If you aren’t happy with where you are in life, or if you simply find that life’s challenges are too much to overcome, take a step back. There is nothing that you cannot overcome. There are simply things that you cannot overcome yet.
True success doesn’t come overnight. It takes grit. It takes growth. You can’t be any more successful than you are today if you give up every time things get hard because you’re afraid of failure. Failure is an opportunity. Every failure is a chance to learn. People with a growth mindset embrace failure and use it to improve. People with grit don’t stay down after a failure – they pick themselves up and push on.
Truly, if you want to succeed, it’s as simple as that. Keep pushing forward, learn from failure, never stop growing, and success can be yours.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to do further research on the topics discussed, I highly recommend these books: