You Don’t Actually Need To Be Talented To Succeed. You Just Need This.

September 28, 2017
Angela Duckworth Talent

If you’ve got this one attribute, you can make it all the way to the top.

Most of us grew up being taught that with hard work, we could make our dreams come true.

But, inevitably, as we got older, we learned not everyone who makes it to the top gets there with elbow grease; some people are just born, well, gifted.

And recent research even more depressingly underscores that ideology.

Surveys show that while we say we value hard work in others, in reality, we prize natural talent – those lucky people who seemingly breeze their way through life with boundless amounts of natural beauty or brains (or both, if they really won the genetic lottery). Let’s face it, there’s something ethereal about the child prodigy piano star whose fingers just know what keys to hit, even before he’s even really learned what a piano is.

But University of Pennsylvania psychologist and professor Angela Duckworth postulates we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to the formula for success. She says we only need one attribute to make it to the top, and it’s got nothing to do with putting in extra hours at the office or being naturally gifted with an ability to learn new things quickly. All you need, according to the psychologist, is grit.

In her groundbreaking TED Talk, which has amassed over eight million views and a best-selling book, Duckworth all at once insults us and provides us with hope; poking holes in the idea that talent gets you everywhere.

“I think talent is overrated,” states Duckworth.

Instead, my research suggests that excellence depends on both the quantity and quality of effort.”  

The theory of grit

“Just because things come easily doesn’t mean you’ll hang in there, long after the exhilarating early gains in skill are far behind you. Just because you’re a quick study doesn’t mean that you’ll challenge yourself to put in the highest-quality practice, concentrating with every fiber of your being on attempting — and necessarily failing — to do what you can’t yet do,” explains Duckworth.

Who wouldn’t love to effortlessly speak a new language, solve complex math equations all in their head, or sing like Beyonce without practice? But while those qualities may be covetable, they won’t necessarily guarantee you an all-access pass to the life of your dreams.

Contrastingly, grit, which isn’t about perfection (nothing should be) or natural ability, means that, regardless of your skill set, you’re likely to stick around when the going gets tough and your more talented peers call it quits.

“Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments,” Duckworth confirms

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Against all odds

Think back in your mind and you’re likely to find a time when you gave up on a task or a job application because you felt like you didn’t have the skills for it. The idea behind grit is that you stop thinking “that’s not where my strengths are”. If it’s something you’re passionate about, try instead to develop the areas you’re lacking in, and make it a strength.

Duckworth’s even developed a way of measuring your likelihood to stick it out when you’re faced with challenges on the road to success; the Grit Scale, a 10-question quiz worth taking if you’ve ever doubted your ability to achieve something you really wanted in life.

So how exactly do you find your inner ‘grit’?

Duckworth sets it out in three succinct steps in her book. The first step involves identifying a burning interest (this is your passion), then suggests you go on to practice it a lot, and believe your passion will improve the world. This latter step is based off of the idea that we achieve more when we devote ourselves to things that bring us joy and purpose. 

The final step is to develop what’s called a ‘growth mindset’, a term coined by Stanford University researcher, Carol Dweck.

“It is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. Dr Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition,” explains Duckworth.

Grit is action. Instead of fearing failure, gritty people go for it and keep trying, even when they don’t yet succeed. Grit marries passion and hard work.

And talent? On it’s own, it won’t get you anywhere.

Image via tumblr.com.

Comment: Which do you think is more important for being successful in life? Talent, or determination?

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