It Takes Grit and Grub to Succeed

by | May 16, 2016 | Uncategorized

The Moment You Stop Accepting Challenges Is the Moment You Stop Advancing

As luck would have it, the synchronicity of two captivating stories I happened to run across this week triggered some ideas I thought were worth sharing. One from academia, the other from an impoverished town in Vietnam, converged as an epiphany that virtually named itself as a lesson in “grit and grub.”

It started with a newsletter from one of my favorite thought-provoking authors, Dan Pink. His book “Drive,” which overturns conventional wisdom about human motivation, is a must read – whether you manage people, work for people, or are a person. After my introduction to “Drive,” I enjoy just about anything Dan Pink puts out there, including recommendations of other thought-provoking reads. His latest was Angela Duckworth’s new book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” In it, she shares years of research exploring what enables some people to overcome barriers to succeed while others with similar capabilities fare worse (think of the 1 in 5 cadets enrolled at West Point who don’t make it to graduation). Her conclusion: It comes down to passion and perseverance, or “grit.”grit1

Duckworth went so far as to design a set of questions that calculate where you fall on the “Grit Scale.” I encourage you to take the quiz to see just how gritty you are.

There’s something encouraging and validating about the fact that you can succeed in spite of lacking innate talent if you have a good dose of persistence and resilience. It’s about what you do with your skills – nurturing, challenging, refining – that matters. Society tends to admire natural winners. However, what happens when the rules and the landscape change, and those skills are stale or insufficient for the new playing field? Those who are complacently satisfied with where they are may or may not be equipped for where they will need to be. Grit, however, is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

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So how do you get there and develop your grit? Learn from people who epitomize those characteristics, exemplars of grit whom Duckworth refers to as “grit paragons.”

On that same day, I ran across this story of Vietnamese refugee Tri Tran, who went from starvation to running one of America’s most promising food delivery services, Munchery. Just the story of fleeing his country to the U.S. is inspiring in its own right, let alone his capitalistic fight against the fierce competition of food delivery. What captivated me is how he embraced multiple personal and business missteps, reinvented himself and moved on. Tran talks about how his experience as a refugee has stayed with him. His drive to prove himself and validate the sacrifices his parents made makes him work harder. And his harrowing life experiences have enabled him to face obstacles creatively.

So how does this relate to you and me? It’s an invitation to think about how to integrate a bit of grit in your life. We all face setbacks and make mistakes, and each time have a choice in how we react. Do you choose to wallow – blame someone or something else – give up, or repurpose that emotion to learn from it and do it better next time?

In my own work, I encourage people to get out of their comfort zones, even make a few mistakes. It’s those who do initially fail but can pull themselves back up with determination who end up being amazing and talented employees. This also applies to people who already feel they have reached the apex of their career. I remind even seasoned interviewers/moderators to once in a while go back and listen to a couple of audios of their work after a project. It’s time-consuming, and extremely humbling – who likes to listen to their own voice on audio or watch themselves on video? And why bother – you’re already great, right? Maybe … but not gritty for what’s to come. Like most industries, market research is constantly evolving, so you too need to keep pushing yourself in order to keep up. To build that grit, you need to be open to listen for and embrace those stumbles.

So go out and find a few grit paragons in your life who continue to inspire you. In the meantime while you’re looking, there’s no shortage of books and movies glorifying tales of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. Here are a few of my favorite nonsport-themed movies exemplifying grit:


I’d love to hear your stories – where do you fall on the Grit Scale, and who’s your grit paragon?

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