Angela Duckworth’s Tips for Becoming a Gritty Professional

It’s not talent or IQ, but grit, that ensures the most meaningful success.

#WWW Angela Duckworth When psychologist Angela Duckworth’s book came out, #TeamIvanka fought (in varying degrees of professionalism) for the two advance copies in the office. GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance eloquently presents a concept that’s native to our own corporate culture—the belief that talent, intelligence and pedigree is only so important. In the end, success comes to those who work the hardest and are the most passionate about their mission. It’s an incredibly liberating idea and one that Angela has spent her impressive career studying. A PhD, 2013 MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela’s TED Talk on the topic first made waves in 2013. For #WomenWhoWork, the concept is essential to unlocking meaning and striving for achievement. It’s about finding a calling, not a career; about challenging yourself daily and about the mindset that moves you forward when faced with failure or setback. From raising gritty kids to cultivating a gritty spirit in oneself, Angela asserts it’s grit, not talent or luck, that’s the secret to success. We spoke with Angela recently to get her thoughts on growing grit and putting it to work, professionally.

Am I gritty?

There are four signature characteristics of gritty individuals: they have deep interests, a sense of purpose in their work, a comprehension that what they do matters and a sense of optimism; they’re hopeful. They have a growth mindset and when bad things happen, they don’t give up.

Grit benefits us at work

Grittier individuals are less likely to switch around from career to career, finding instead, one career that they really enjoy. A job is not a career, by the way, so if you’re a programmer at Apple and then you become a programmer at Google, that’s not a career shift. It’s more like being an art curator and deciding you want to be a doctor. CEOs today look for talent and intelligence, but they absolutely want people with grit because these are the people who are going to continue learning and keep shifting up. In my book, I interviewed the CEO of Vanguard, who admitted it’s difficult to predict which junior members in the company will succeed, saying, 'some of the people you think will end up total superstars wind up not being that great in the long run and other people who start off fine, wind up really excelling and surprising you.' There are people who are committed to continually growing and evolving and there are others who just get comfortable. Gritty people have a growth mindset; when bad things happen, they don’t give up.

IQ does not equal grit

In fact, a high level of intelligence is sometimes negatively related to grit. People to whom things come easy are not always the ones who work the hardest.

You’re never good enough

In business, it’s essential to have a culture where good is never good enough. Some people might think, “Oh, that sounds miserable, never feeling like you’re good enough.” But it’s actually a very energetic, positive way of being; not looking back at yesterday with regrets, but looking forward to tomorrow with optimism. It’s what I watch for when I’m hiring, people who will come back tomorrow and say, ‘Great. What can I do differently today?’

Challenge + warmth + support

A culture is accomplishing at work what a family is building at home, and this formula has been reliably proven to produce the healthiest, highest achieving, nicest kids. In business, the culture has to be demanding; complacency won’t encourage grit. The balance—because it can become oppressive and lead to burnout—is that there must also be an unconditionality about the warmth and support. When I think about my favorite teachers and best bosses, they were total hard-asses, but at the same time, I knew they loved me.

To be a gritty manager, find someone to channel

Pete Carroll, coach of the Seahawks, channels his inner-dad. He says, “I’m a better dad than anything else,” so in a way, that’s his blueprint for leadership. Think of a parent, teacher or coach you really admire—someone supportive but demanding, and try to essentially copy that.

When hiring, look for evidence of grit

Especially when hiring junior members without much work experience, look at resumes for evidence of continuity in someone’s interests and progression that required effort. Have they played a sport? Did they play for more than a year? If they have three or four years on the tennis team and they moved from JV to varsity, that says a lot about their grit. I’ve lost track of the number of high-powered executives, both male and female, who love to hire varsity athletes. They see a college athlete and say, “Okay, you know how to show up to practice everyday, you know how to be coached. Someone has told you you’ve done something wrong. You’ve heard that before and haven't given up.” People to whom things come easy are not always the ones who work the hardest.

Distraction is the enemy of grit

Novelty is a grit seductress, in a way. Have you ever wasted time on the internet? Say you’re kind of tired, but you’re not going to bed, and you wind up spending an hour watching videos. Novelty is a basic human instinct, but if you continually skip around hobbies, careers, even relationships, you’re never going to master anything. You’ll never get to seriousness or depth. Technology is an enabler. You can fritter away thousands of hours online, as opposed to working on something for thousands of hours and becoming really great at it.

When faced with failure, focus on what you can do, not what you can’t

The crucial thing to do when you have a setback is acknowledge that there are reasons beyond your control why something may have happened—but focus your attention on whatever it is that you can do something about. Even if it isn’t everything, it’s something and it’s something you can fix, and that’s why you should focus on it, because ultimately it all comes down to what you’re going to do next to move the needle further and get better.

Not gritty by nature? You’re in luck

Grit can be cultivated at any time of life—it doesn’t mean you’re going to be as gritty as Isaac Newton, but from wherever you are, there is room to grow. The first step is self-awareness. How gritty are you today? How passionate? How well do you persevere? Ask yourself, “How consistent are my interests lately? How likely am I to finish something that’s hard?” Once you have that moment of reflection, you might say, “this is how gritty I am, and I’m fine with it.” But most of the people I talk to decide they want to be grittier. Determine which of the four signature assets you’re lacking in and make a plan to develop in those areas.

For more from Angela, read GRIT: The Power and Passion of Perseverance or visit her online at Get the best of the best career advice, #lifehacks and style stories, delivered straight to your inbox—sign up here!

Image Courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ​