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Why Perseverance and Grit Trump Intelligence as the Key to Success

Updated on August 12, 2012
Winston Churchill understood the importance of perseverance.
Winston Churchill understood the importance of perseverance.

When my brother was in his twenties he had a low-paying job at a large telecommunications company. We were talking one day and he asked me for my advice on what he should do. Should he quit to find a better job, go to college, or stay where he was? I thought for a few minutes about my own experience and recommended that he stick with that low-paying job. I knew that the company he worked for had a lot of opportunities available for employees for paid training and certifications in computer networking. So that's what he did. He took full advantage of every opportunity offered and soon gained valuable certifications that allowed him to move up to become a network administrator. After stints working as a sales person of telecommunications equipment and self employment, he's now employed in the same field by the government and makes a good income with excellent benefits. I wonder now how it would have turned out had he quit the job and found something else. Based on his experience and that of myself and others I know, I personally believe that perseverance is more important than IQ or even talent in becoming successful in your chosen field.  And now, research supports it too.

Keep going even when the going is tough
Keep going even when the going is tough | Source

Dr. Angela Duckworth agrees as well. She's studied what she calls "grit" extensively and even created a scale to measure it. What she found is that people who score highly on the Grit Scale are more successful than their brilliant but less motivated counterparts. I think we can all relate to this. Don't we all know people who are extremely smart, maybe they even test in the genius range on IQ tests, but they end up being far less successful than expected. You might also know someone who has average intelligence but is passionate about what they do and they stay the course until they see success, even if it takes years to achieve.  Dr.Duckworth's research showed that students who measured high on the Grit Scale got better grades and also had more job success after graduation than those who scored lower. 

Grit is defined by Dr. Duckworth as the combination of passion and perseverance. Passion is defined in the dictionary as "a powerful emotion" that when applied towards a career or endeavor, can keep a person motivated and moving forward. Perseverance is defined as "steady persistence in a course of action." That means the willingness to work hard in the face of adversity and to keep going despite setbacks. The theory is that if someone stays the course, he or she will realize success over time. Sure, they may not become the next Nobel Prize winner or founder of a successful dot-com enterprise but they can be like my brother or other people I know who kept at it and found their own measure of success in life.

So, if grit is so important, how can you cultivate these traits in yourself and your children? Is it possible to develop grit even if you don't have it now? The answer is yes. If you're aware that you have an issue with passion and perseverance and work at it, you too can develop grit.

Passion is something that's a bit more difficult to cultivate if it's not already there. Many people get into a career or course of study for the wrong reasons. For example, they may choose based on income potential, job security, or to please someone else rather than to please themselves. It's important to choose something that you're personally passionate about, Only then will you have one half of the grit equation.

Perseverance, however, can be developed. One way to do this is to cultivate an optimistic attitude. It makes sense. If you're optimistic about the future, you probably won't let setbacks get you down. You'll keep going because you have a sense that everything will work out. If you're not optimistic you need to make an effort to change your self talk. If something goes wrong, try to see the positive in the situation. Try to catch yourself making negative self talk and change it to something neutral or positive. Spend time with other people who are positive, or at least neutral. If you catch your children thinking negative thoughts, try to talk it over with them and let them see that sometimes positives can be found in tough situations.

To cultivate grit, it's also important to set meaningful goals and work to achieve them. Just make sure that your goals are specific and set a time period for achieving them. You'll also need to spend time visualizing and writing down what achieving the goal will mean to you. This will help you maintain your passion for achieving it. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you could put photos of role models up in your bathroom or closet. As you work towards your goal, log milestones and reward yourself for your achievements. Encourage your kids to set goals too and be supportive as they work towards them. Positive achievement of goals at a young age can set a precedence for a lifetime.

Do you think you have grit?

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    • profile image

      Jess 6 years ago

      Awesome feed back!! (:

    • SD Dickens profile image

      SD Dickens 6 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback A.A. Zavala!

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

      Outstanding article outlining the attributes of successful people. Thank you for sharing.