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To Grit, or Not to Grit


We hear so much from popular culture about the importance of having grit. Grit refers to perseverance in the face of an obstacle, and the ability to continue and reach a long-term goal. In our culture, grit has taught us powering through is admirable.

Scripp’s National Spelling Bee and West Point use The Short Grit Scale, a scale used to measure personality traits correlated with grit, to predict top contenders and career potential (Duckwork & Quinn, 2009).

Psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, has made a career from researching grit and its impact on her students. Duckworth’s TED talk has over 11 million views. Duckworth provides the viewers with prime Meme material. Quoted as saying, “… one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success, And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks or physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.” The confidence with which she delivers such a bold declaration feels true to the viewer. At face value, it appears relatable and real. Workers can identify grit in their own success and the success of their coworkers and even their superiors.

If we take a step back and view the grit theory through the eyes of the self-help industry, we start to see a more complex story emerge (Singal, 2017). How helpful is self-help to our culture? Those that work in research know the power and the sway statistics can provide with any argument, but researchers also know how the fruit of vague statistics can be plucked when they are not ripe and then used for sour ideologies.

Grit is about the individual. Grit’s sour fruit is made of individual attitudes, survival skills, adaptability, and navigation of environments by relying on individual wits and self-determination. The cultural phenomenon makes no mention of our social constraints, family ties, political environments, and prejudices (Nehring, 2016). Grit itself masks as a clever tool we all need in our toolboxes.

I’d like to share a different perspective. In the Book of Joy published in 2016, the Dalai Lama has a different perspective on what it takes to succeed. The Dalai Lama worked closely with survivors of Chinese gulags. During this time, many Tibetans were sentenced to labor camps and tortured. When the Dalai Lama asked the surviving men why some survived and not others he was told because some men had warmheartedness. They did not survive because of their individuality and fierce competitiveness but they survived because of their kindness to each other (Abrams, 2016).

By oversimplifying success and focusing on a limited view of white-collar success we create an increasingly selfish and individualized workforce. This workforce isn’t inspired or innovative, because its goals are shortsighted and monetary.

Surprisingly, grit as a predictor of success has extraordinarily little scientific backing (Seppälä 2017) The idea that we can control and master our own destinies with only strong resolve and tenacity is at best a simplification of success’ complex puzzle and at its worst leads to an isolated deadly trap of self-blame and self-destructive behaviors (Seppälä 2017).

Assuming individuals have the power to maximize their strengths and determine their own social class and mobility eliminates the importance of the community around us (Nehring, D. et al. 2016) Let’s look at a topic with a great deal of scientific backing and evidence, human evolution. Community is a common theme of our ancestry. We discover altruism at the center of all civilizations. Countless studies and publications show it is altruism and not grit that predicts our success (DiSalvo, 2009).

Darwin’s study of emotions and evolutionary origins are published in, Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Darwin found emotions and cooperation were the core of our survival (DiSalvo, 2009). In short, part of Darwin's theories includes kindness as a stronger indicator of perseverance. Kindness is shown when humans care for weaker humans, helping them survive. In addition, in nurturing communities the humans that are best at cooperation survive by sharing food and resources (Sunstein, 2020).

Modern humans collaborate in every type and industry of workplace. These workplaces demonstrate multiple and varied levels of talent and experience. The core success factor in every industry is teamwork, and if your company doesn't have teamwork as a corporate strategy the company is unlikely to adapt and survive. Humility, empathy, and kindness are powerful predictors of career outcomes.

Executives are realizing what those in marketing have known for some time, a company’s ability to thrive is heavily based on human emotions (DiSalvo, 2009). Corporate companies now require employees to take training and workshops teaching emotional intelligence, teamwork, and empathy. The investments in our teams and culture pay off through devoted and knowledgeable staff. Drawing the line from a loyal employee to revenue gain is not rocket science. An employee that does a good job and cares about their team will naturally bring more value and influence customers. According to the 2022 Gallup Poll companies with engaged employees say an 81% difference in absenteeism and a 14% increase in productivity (Harter, 2022). Each year for decades Gallup continues to shed light on employee retention and productivity. Decades of Gallup data lead to the conclusion that kindness, recognition, and civility are directly linked to higher retention rates, less absenteeism, innovation, and higher outputs (Harter, 2022).

This 2023 I am asking for kindness to be the center of our work environment. I’m dedicated to sharing kindness, lifting up my coworkers, helping my customers build their brands and products, and continuing to look at the positive ways we can support each other.

Work is called work for a reason; it takes effort and it can be difficult. Let’s be there as support, and help fill in the gaps for another to succeed. Why not start 2023 by igniting a spark of success for a teammate?

"A candle is not diminished by giving another candle light ," Earl Nightingale

References:

Abrams, D. (2016). The book of joy: lasting happiness in a changing world / His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Penguin Random House.

Duckworth, A.L. and Quinn, P.D. (2009) “Development and validation of the short grit scale (grit–S),” Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(2), pp. 166–174. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/00223890802634290.

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D. and Kelly, D. R. 2007. Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology., 92: 1087–1101.

DiSalvo, D. and Author(S), A.T. (2009) Forget survival of the fittest: It is kindness that counts, Scientific American. Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kindness-emotions-psychology/#:~:text=KELTNER%3A%20%E2%80%9CBorn%20to%20be%20good%E2%80%9D%20for%20me%20means,of%20evolution%E2%80%94survival%2C%20gene%20replication%20and%20smooth%20functioning%20groups. (Accessed: January 4, 2023).

Harter, J. (2022, November 15). Employee engagement vs. employee satisfaction and organizational culture. Gallup.com. Retrieved January 6, 2023, from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236366/right-culture-not-employee-satisfaction.aspx

Sunstein, C.R. (2020) “The triumph of the friendly: A review of Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, survival of the friendliest .”

Ted (2020) Ted talks: 'grit: The power of passion and perseverance', SUCCESS. Available at: https://www.success.com/ted-talks-grit-the-power-of-passion-and-perseverance/#:~:text=Grit%3A%20the%20power%20of%20passion%20and%20perseverance%20%7C,through%20the%20school%20year%20came%20out%20on%20top. (Accessed: January 4, 2023).

Singal, J. (2017) How the self-esteem Craze took over America, The Cut. The Cut. Available at: https://www.thecut.com/2017/05/self-esteem-grit-do-they-really-help.html (Accessed: January 4, 2023).

Seppälä , E. (2017) When grit goes wrong and what to do instead, Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201705/when-grit-goes-wrong-and-what-to-do-instead (Accessed: January 4, 2023).

Nehring, D. et al. (2016) Transnational Popular Psychology and the global self-help industry the politics of Contemporary Social Change. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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