Are you more ‘grit’ or more ‘quit’?
I hear this all of the time from my clients – ‘But I’m just not naturally talented in X’. Believe me ‘talent’ accounts for much less than you think but I bet you your perceived ‘lack of talent’ has stopped you from achieving a long-held but buried ambition. For the sceptics out there, I’m not about to start preaching ‘you can be and do ANYTHING’ because there are some vital ingredients that you DO need, I’m just arguing that ‘natural talent’ isn’t actually one of them. If you’ve read ‘Outliers’ by Malcom Gladwell, you will agree with me (and if you haven’t, READ IT, especially if you’re a parent).
I believe that we can train ourselves to think differently about achieving goals and the first step is to understand the role of perseverance. The more willing you are to actively and gracefully learn from setbacks, stretch yourself regularly and work really hard sometimes, the more chance you have of succeeding in most things you put your mind to.
My twin brother Johnny was told in school by his teachers (yes, I know!) that he was destined ‘to build walls in the Mournes’ (the Mournes are the local mountains where we grew up). It was a simple, yet cutting, way of saying he shouldn’t have high expectations of himself. He is one of the most successful people I know. He is a wildlife camera man, having travelled to 97 countries around the world to film for National Geographic, Discovery, BBC – he’s won a BAFTA, an Emmy, a Royal film and television award and many more. Was he a ‘natural’ at filming wildlife? Who is?! No…he LEARNED, he trained himself, he was passionate about it and when everyone told him he ‘would never’…he believed he ‘would’ and he proved it – just look at that photo!
It’s not about having talent. Yeah, it might get you to the starting line, but it won’t get you to the finish line. It’s about effort and perseverance. This is the greatest predictor of achievement. There are several successful, well-known figures who freely admit that they faced a lot of ‘failure’ and knockbacks before you or I ever got to see them enjoy their current fame. As singer John Legend put it, you have to hear ‘no’ after ’no’ after ‘no’ before you get that eventual ‘yes’.
“Talent isn’t a fixed thing. You have to cultivate it and you can always get better. I couldn’t crack though a particular vocal ceiling I had without a coach. I’ve also been unsuccessful in my career – I tried to get a record deal for 6 years and got turned down by every major label – you just don’t know it because you didn’t hear about it!“
– John Legend
Why is it that we give up so easily? I’m pretty sure it’s because we don’t often get commended for having the bravery to try big things in the first place. Society imposes all sorts of expectations on us to not be wrong or make mistakes in front of colleagues, friends, competitors, or interested observers. Unless we come from a particularly free-thinking family, we’re often conditioned quite early on that it’s unsafe to get things wrong. The pressure to pass exams in most current school systems doesn’t help us experiment much either in its refusal to place value on creativity over learned repetition.
Imagine the difference between a toddler trying to walk and one that’s trying not to fall over. It’s all in the attitude, if you’re trying not to fall (or fail) how quickly do you think you’ll master anything (or walking as in this example)? Not half as quick as someone who’s motivated by the goal (walking) not the fear of what will happened if you fail (falling over).
I’ve seen some lovely examples in Norway of freer thinking school ethos and approach to learning. But it’s not common.
Across the board, we need to start earlier with a more helpful message if we want our younger friends and family members to live to their full potential. In our own families we need to create spaces where it’s truly safe to make mistakes. There should be no such thing as a bad question. Otherwise, and I know this painfully well from people (of all ages) who I’ve coached, we eventually stop raising our hands, stop learning, stop attempting and start withdrawing from the courage to be brave in life, and to enter the Stretch Zone, the place where the good stuff happens!
Set yourself free!
So how can we gradually start to inch out of our comfort zones? I think it starts with challenging our own beliefs about struggle. Life is a rollercoaster. We hear that phrase a lot, but how many of us actually believe it’s true and then accept it into our lives. Maybe it’s even harder for impatient people like me! We all need to get more comfortable with struggle, and reinforce the value of effort.
Want to cultivate your ‘Grit’? here are three things for you to try:
The thing to remember is, we’re not on a smooth path to anywhere. There WILL be bumps in the road, the road is our ‘plan’ and the bumps are life! Struggle is a natural part of life and it means we’re growing. A gritty attitude is what will help you achieve what you want – check out the expert of ‘Grit’ thinking Angela Duckworth and her TED talk for more inspiration.