Every once in a while there’s a new must have quality that everyone must possess to be successful. While many authors and successful people talk about multiple skills, there is one persistent trait in every success story. We can talk about punctuality, communication, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, assertiveness, focus, discipline, determination, and they are all important to build consistent and solid results. But there’s one thing that if not present in your personality, will cause you to fail regardless of how well you communicate or how much you trust yourself.
This little key trait is called persistence. UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth has just published a book summarizing a 10+ years research on what is the single most important skill for success. In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth argues that regardless of other important qualities, such as emotional intelligence, self-confidence, or a positive attitude, without what she calls grit, one cannot succeed.
I have thought about it for a long time, having gotten to different conclusions over time, but always considering persistence to be a top three quality. I’ve been through a phase when I thought success was all about mindset, then another when I was obsessed with assertiveness and communication, which also includes emotional intelligence. Over the years, however, looking at my own results, as well as just observing people around me, one thing stands out: it doesn’t matter if you’re lazy, a slacker, stupid, emotionally inept, even if you have a negative mindset, if you never give up, you’ll get what you want. That was one of the most profound realizations I had. It may seem obvious to you, you might be thinking, duh, obviously, we need to be persistent to reach our goals, what’s new with that?
There’s nothing really new with that, of course. The big A-HA moment, however, was understanding how persistence, or grit if you will, stands out as the most important quality, well above other powerful traits. It does make a different when you truly understand that. Why? Well, I see this effect all time. When we associate certain traits with success and convince ourselves that we can’t be successful until we develop that quality, we end up hindering our own progress, and at some point we give up the fight. Emotional intelligence is a big example. Some people believe they don’t have what it takes to succeed because they are not outgoing, extroverted, they don’t communicate charismatically like George Clooney, they can’t influence people like Steve Jobs, they can’t be assertive like Winston Churchill. So they tell themselves that they first need to get better at that. When they become more emotionally intelligent then they will have better chances at being successful. We do that if we don’t feel confident enough, if we are depressed or unmotivated, if the obstacles seem to be too difficult to overcome. In the meantime, imperfect people all over the place are getting what they want, just because they keep going.
Grit, as Angela puts it, is a blend of passion and perseverance. You can’t be persistent following a goal you’re not interested in, so at the root of success we can go back to an old researcher that in 1937 said that to be successful you first need to feel a burning desire to chase something. I thought it was interesting as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is regarded as one of the best self-help books of all time. It all starts with wanting something really bad, so bad that you will overcome virtually anything to get it and won’t stop until you succeed.