This week I had the great fortune to attend a talk and discussion with Angela Duckworth about her first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The central concept of Duckworth’s research is that the unrelenting pursuit of a goal in the face of challenge or setbacks over time—grit—is a greater predictor of success than talent or IQ. Among other findings, her research and analysis highlights that effort and perseverance are significant components for success.
Those that live with the sometimes tortuous drive to be the best at what we do, to strive for ever higher peaks in our performance know well that effort is essential in creating success. So I got worried when I heard this message. Will this lead an achievement-oriented successful person to think, “Alright, if I want more, I am going to get even grittier. I will work even harder. I’ll persevere more!”?
I couldn’t help but wonder if what she said about effort in both developing skill and maximizing performance might resonate for success-driven people, like my clients and me, as a call to action.
I got fidgety in my seat thinking about it.
Instantly I could here that inner voice say, “OK. It’s on. I am going to outwork and outperform like nobody’s business.” I could almost feel that adrenaline rush, that surge of ecstasy, that sweet drug of challenge that we high achievers crave.
I know from my own experience and from the clients I work with that this thought process is real. I know it results in intensified effort and that it is a turbo-boost to our drive. I also know that can be dangerous.
I wondered if this message could lead to more overwork and overdrive in the already burned out. I couldn’t help but ponder the potential risk of this message in the eyes and hands of the already gritty.
Could this lead to more willing acceptance among us that success has to suck? Might this amplify the exhaustion among the successful? Might we cling more fervently to the notion of sacrifice and to the “success at all costs” mentality that makes us miserable?
So I asked her.
I asked Ms. Duckworth about diminishing returns to effort and perseverance and the potential impact to happiness. Her answer? There is a cost to perseverance, grit, and tenacity in the pursuit of a goal. As she put it, “burnout is real.” Straight up.
She talked about how “paragons of grit” work extremely hard, deliberately practicing and honing their expertise in the name of top performance, AND that they rest. They are not uni-dimensional people who work without respite or other engagement beyond their pursuit of success. Top athletes, for example, have intense periods of training and then they rest (even on a daily basis). Top business professionals work in heightened focus for periods of time and then they engage their attention and energy elsewhere.
And so I offer you this, success focused high achievers that you are. A tip for you when you read this book. Take the effort piece as given. Agree with it, based on your own experience and record of success. Then, sink into the rest of it. Explore the concepts around interest, passion, and purpose. Consider how the application of deliberate practice might influence your greater success. Think about how you might instill grit and self-regulation in your children. And wonder, how might your experience of success expand as a result?
You might be surprised…not to mention happier!