Hardships, Endurance, Purpose: ‘Grit’ Author Angela Duckworth in Conversation with Jay Papasan
As this month’s ‘Grit’ Book Club comes to a close, bestselling author Angela Duckworth virtually sat down with Keller Williams’ own VP of learning, Jay Papasan, to dive deeper into the psychology of being gritty and the forces that come into play. Here are the key takeaways from the conversation.
A quick formula for grit
According to Duckworth, “Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Perseverance is only half of the magic, and Duckworth likens being gritty to being married to a vocation and staying loyal to it. As it turns out, grit does not necessarily go hand in hand with talent. On this point, Duckworth cites her research on West Point, where 1,200 top applicants are admitted yearly based on rigorous academic and physical standards. There, Duckworth administered her Grit Scale – a test designed to measure the extent to which one approaches life with grit.
“When you follow these women and men across their years of training, you’ll find that grit is the best predictor of sticking through the hardest part of training, and it predicts graduating four years later,” she says. “If you feel like you are one of the people that wasn’t the smartest in the room, don’t count yourself out. Maybe you are the person that can pursue what you care about with passion and perseverance.”
Hardships can be an advantage
In the introduction of SHIFT, Gary Keller talks about how disadvantages can serve us, using his son, who was diagnosed with ADHD, as an example. The moral of the story, Papasan shares, is that “if you are an average person with average focus, you wouldn’t have any incentive to be purposeful about getting focused, but people who are disadvantaged have an incentive to use a model or framework to get focused, which often catapults them past the average and gets better results.”
Duckworth agrees, noting that being gifted isn’t necessarily beneficial. “What happens to someone who is always at the top? One day, they might stumble and fall – and if you have no experience being rejected, you are at a disadvantage compared to somebody who has had that experience.” However, she also believes it is important to recognize when the level of hardship does begin to feel toxic and you feel marginalized. “I don’t want to romanticize adversity,” she says. “I want to say challenge and support are magic for human development. Extreme challenges without support can be terrible.”
What Duckworth is referring to is a tipping point called the allostatic load. “Neuroscientists discovered that the brain and the body have a very productive adaptive short-term response to stress,” Duckworth says. “When your heart rate goes up and your blood is pulsing and the adrenaline is flowing, in the short term that could be very helpful. But, there is a tipping point where it is too much and too long, and the body and mind’s response is no longer adaptive and can be detrimental.”
Date your interests
“I love the metaphor of dating, because when you reach a certain point, finding your interest is like getting married,” says Duckworth. “There is a longer-term commitment, but before marriage comes dating, and you can flirt with something, try it, and not feel bad about that. I think that you can apply the same process of dating with intent to figuring out your work: Let me date you, but I’m not dating you as an end to itself. I am trying to figure out if we’re getting married.”
In the context of real estate, Papasan advises young agents to spend some time with the industry. “If you think you might be interested in a leadership role, how could you do an internship? Could you volunteer with a board or charity, or do things in your side time to ‘date’ those other interests and see if they are more than just an idea in your head?”
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How ego is impacting grit
According to Duckworth, there are two types of egos – and they each impact grit in a different manner. “Ego can be a positive thing if you mean specifically having the confidence that you can learn and eventually do something,” she says. “I think grit comes from the quiet confidence that you will eventually persevere.” On the flip side, she shares, “What I think is really detrimental to grit is the kind of ego that is like a big glass bubble – large and fragile. I think that when we get that spidey sense that we’re not going to say or do something because we want to protect our big glass fragile ego, it is good to say, ‘I’m going to ignore that voice for now and let the other kind of ego come out and play.’”
Ultimately, if she were to rewrite her book today, Duckworth would make it clear that being gritty also involves caring to offer opportunities so everyone starts on equal footing. “Right now, there are conversations about racial injustice, and systemic inequality. I think that if you care about people being their best and reaching their potential and achieving their dreams, then you have to care more about support systems, opportunity, and feeling like you have a place in society,” she says.