Grit. Because talent is overrated.

One of the things I'm truly & fully proud'n'happy is the way I'm managing my own self-development. I never had problems with:

  • declining motivation
  • making decisions on what to do next
  • lack of focus
  • burning out
  • losing ability to reach the state of "flow"
  • dispiritedness or anything like that

Invariably, I'm having fun learning new stuff, getting experiences, breaking next barriers - it makes me feel more capable, more skillful, more prepared to make a difference once next need materialises.

My kung-fu

But I know that keeping myself at the raising curve ain't trivial. I've met plenty of people who're struggling with that or even gave up already. So if you're one of these people, I may have good news for you -> I'll tell you what has worked (works) for me, so you can find out whether it could be applicable in your case as well.

Obviously my personal "framework" is a result of long-term evolution, powered by reading, thorough thinking, experimentation & ... learning from my own mistakes. As you can imagine, presenting it all up could take a lot of time & keystrokes, but ... fortunately I've identified few keywords (or rather - key concepts) that present the essential ideas & values I guide myself by (order is random):

  1. Kanban
  2. Essentialism
  3. Grit

I've already written about Kanban & Essentialism on several occasions, so my today's goal is to get you familiar with Grit & explain why it's far more important (for technical people) than so-called talent.

What's Grit?

To be honest I didn't know this particular word until I've run (by chance) into great Ted talk of Angela Duckworth. I'll get back to Angela later, but for now, let's focus on what grit actually is. Here comes Wikipedia's definition:

"Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective."

For me, it's just a balanced mix of passion & perseverance, fueled with intrinsic motivation, forged into strength of one's character

Grit is about ...

  • ... true & ardent desire to achieve a particular goal / effect ("that's what I really want & it will be mine")
  • ... building up self-confidence that this can be done ("nothing can stop me; I either have all the means or abilities to build them up")
  • ... methodical and fully committed pushing forward to get what's to be get ("I'm not going to stop half-way; losing is for the weak")

Stubbornness, clear focus, ritualization of good habits, hard everyday grind, being badass in all the smallest daily activities, because details DO MATTER - that's my definition of grit.

I've seen numerous extremely talented people wasting their potential just like that - usually they had a good start but lacked either the willpower or consistence in putting it into good use. On the other hand, I've seen people with their initial ceiling set quite low, but who were able to outshine everyone around just because:

  • they really wanted to succeed, bah no, that's an understatement - they burned with passion to do it
  • they committed themselves fully, instead of doing their stuff half-heartedly
  • they realized that effects won't come immediately, but they didn't let this fact discourage them
  • they knew what hard work means & kept trying

Btw. Duckworth's TED talk may be the fastest way to get familiar with the general idea of grit, but if you want to dig deeper, I advice you to get her book on the topic - frankly I didn't finish it yet, but based on what I've already read, it's definitely a good pick.

Grit VS talent

I find talent far more crucial in disciplines related to:

  • art
  • multi-sensoric activities
  • other highly cognitive & subjective topics

In these areas (rather quite distant from engineering or science-powered craft) evaluation criteria (whether particular effort has resulted in something good or bad) can be a matter of individual taste , personal sensitivity, etc. You either get it or not, but even if you do, it's hard to determine why & due to what particular factors - that's why talents are so volatile, ephemeral & hard to measure / assess.

Software engineering (& related topics) are (fortunately) quite distant from art (contrary to what some say) - there are definitely some people who have "talent" or inclinations towards Computer Science & they seem to grok through the matter faster & more easily, but in this business definitely practice makes a master - the same effect can be achieved (in time) by someone who honestly puts a significant (& well aimed) effort.

And the best news is that contrary to so-called "talent", grit can be learned & trained. You don't get born with diligence & discipline - it's a resultant of your upbringing & the impact of surrounding environment on your personal outlook. Fortunately, even if flawed, it can be fixed & straightened by a determined individual - so yes, building up grit requires at list a glint of it first ;)

Can you afford it?

Pic: Copyright (c) 2005 Mike R. Manzano