Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal. Vince Lombardi
America is enamored with the thought of talent. It’s called “America’s Got Talent” not “America’s Got Effort.” I can’t do that therefore I’ll watch it, pay for it, or be enamored with it. I must admit, I like to pay for something I can’t do, but, might not, if I can do it.
Yet Ph.D. professor Angela Duckworth has dedicated her career to studying what makes people successful. It’s not what you might think. Effort trumps talent. There are three qualities of successful people: talent, passion/purpose and work ethic/effort. Most people focus on the talent part but that’s the part you cannot control. Like the nature vs. nurture debate. It’s what you do with what you have, not just what you have. Some say “Knowledge is power.” I like to say “Knowledge isn’t power; what you do with your knowledge can be powerful”.
Sustained passion is what matters. It’s not just that you are passionate about something. You need to sustain that passion over time. It needs to be time tested and also trauma tested. If you continue to stay on the path of your goals, even through the worst of times, then you have “grit.” It is this quality that differentiates the successful from the not so successful. In the eyes of adversity, you have perseverance.
Angela came up with a formula: talent x effort = skill; skill x effort = achievement or success. The good news for all of us is that it doesn’t matter how much talent you are born with. The level of dedication to your passion determines the level of your success.
The interesting thing is that I believe there are no such things as “setbacks.” Unless a setback causes you to completely quit something, it is not really a setback but, a well disguised “set up.”
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Did he quit basketball? No, he persevered and ended up becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. That takes grit. That takes tenacity. Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot … and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.“
Abby Womback lost her high school soccer championship game, being up 3-0 and favored to win. Did she quit soccer? No, she persevered and ended up becoming one of the strongest soccer players in U.S. history.
Carli Lloyd had a significant falling out with her parents regarding the direction of her soccer. Did she quit soccer? No, she persevered and became the FIFA world player of the year in 2015.
Sylvester Stallone came up with a movie script. He was evicted from his apartment and homeless. He was turned down many times until he finally sold the script and landed the leading role. Did he quit acting? No, he persevered and starred in the 3-time Academy Award winning movie Rocky.
Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the park was rejected by the city of Anaheim because it might attract the wrong crowd.
Thomas Edison, known as one of America’s greatest inventors, struggled with deafness at an early age. Did he quit inventing? No, he persevered and invented the light bulb after 1,000 failures. When asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. “
Collin McGregor, was bullied as a child and on welfare as an adult. Did he quit fighting? No, he persevered and become the UFC Lightweight Champion. McGregor said, “If your dream doesn’t scare you then it’s not big enough.”
Roger Federer, at age 34, had to have surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee. Did he quit tennis and focus on family life? No, he used the time off to develop a stronger one-handed topspin backhand with his coach Ivan Ljubičić. He came back that next year to win two more grand slams.
It’s not how smart you are; it’s what you do with your intelligence. Fail forward. Use your setbacks as setups. Focus on what you want, rather than what you are talented at, and you will succeed.
My brother, Ettore, and I, showed grit in setting two world records in a sport we never took a lesson in. A sport we started “late”. A sport with no financial support or scholarships. We just knew two things: we loved the game of tennis and we enjoyed spending time together. We used to practice on the public tennis courts in our home town of Hamden, Connecticut until the lights shut off at 11 P.M. That didn’t stop us! We headed to the nearby city of Cheshire, to continue practicing until those lights automatically shut at 2 A.M. No one told us to do that. We were just driven by a similar passion.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
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