Have you ever been told to ‘just grin and bear it’? Or perhaps, more recently, to ‘keep calm and carry on’? Because sometimes we just need that extra push to get the work done.
But grit, the latest idea sweeping our work-minded nation, is not about doing the work just because it’s work.
The way psychologist Angela Duckworth interprets this not entirely novel concept of grit in her book entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance shows that it’s about doing the work because you actually like it—and have the long-term motivation and higher aspirations to keep you going through all the boring or difficult parts.
You keep working because you can already see where the work will lead you, and it’s somewhere really great.
Grit is about knowing deep down inside, without a doubt, that what you are doing and the goals you have are entirely worth it. If you need to look to an external source to justify your hard work, if you are only affected by an extrinsic motivation—well, that’s not grit.
When you have greater goals for your creative pursuits, perhaps wanting to make money but also wanting to somehow make things better for people, for your community, your world, and you work hard as hell to achieve these goals, that’s grit.
To put it another way, Duckworth has defined grit as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”
In that case, the idea of grit also sounds a lot like persistence. So what’s the difference from what we already know and have heard a thousand times about working hard? What does having grit change about just sitting your ass down to start creating, pushing your way through the garbage until you uncover those gems of art?
The difference, according to Duckworth, is that grit, more specifically, is persistence paired with deep motivation, like a strong passion for your art.
If you don’t have a real love for the work you are doing or the goal you’re pursuing, if you feel like you are simply slaving away—maybe like you felt at the office job you had before starting your own business–it will be difficult to achieve success and self-satisfaction with persistence alone.
And, perhaps most importantly, Duckworth insists that grit is growable, that it is a quality of our personality that we can develop, no matter what our circumstances are—an idea that is similar to Carol Dweck’s notion of the growth mindset.
Wondering how gritty you are? For her study of grit, Duckworth devised this short questionnaire to help make the concept more measurable.
But what can you do to be more gritty? How can you increase your grit factor as a creative entrepreneur? Here are a couple of ideas:
What do you want to achieve? Why exactly? If you aren’t satisfied with your reasons, maybe it’s time to shift goals—especially if you were planning to pursue those goals over a long period of time.
If you are currently doubting the passion that underlies your goals, then you won’t find success simply by chipping away at your goals. In fact, when that chipping away becomes increasingly tiresome, that probably means it’s time to look back at why you are working toward that goal in the first place.
For example, if you are striving to make more money on Etsy than anyone else you know, that’s great—but it’s also a goal that can easily wear you down. If your passion for making more money conquers your passion for making more and/or better art, your internal motivation suffers. If someone else suddenly surges ahead in their Etsy sales, does that mean you have failed? What will that do to your desire to create?
Although the idea of grit–and being able to develop it–is an interesting one, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that there are always going to be new studies and new theories that push a different way of learning, thinking or working to be more successful.
So if you already know that your life centers around your creativity and your talents, you’ve probably realized that nothing can stop you from expressing that creativity. If you are passionate about something, if you yearn to create and share that creation with the world, that drive is already there and you just need to find the best way to do it. That’s why you’re reading this blog, isn’t it?
Regardless of the buzzwords that get thrown around, your passion and tenacity can work hand-in-hand to help you find your own way to move forward, despite all the challenges. You will figure out how to design a lifestyle that suits you best. And as you push ahead in this direction of your passion, you will cross paths with like-minded people and with opportunities that were meant for you.
It’s not just by chance that those things will happen—it is your own hard work and belief in your passion that is taking you down that road.
Understanding your creative powers and desires is the most important thing.
Having grit means you will follow your passion even if you are not happy with the work you create. Because the longer you continue pursuing your passion, the more time you have to develop and hone your creativity and shape it into something that does make you happy. And if still doesn’t make you happy after a long period of time, then it may be time to shift gears and turn toward another creative pursuit or another set of business goals.
It is important to be guided by your instinct, but it also does take time to see the results that you hope for. And having that quality of grit (or whatever you want to call it) is what helps you keep going through all those long hours, those months and years of refining your craft and building up a successful business out of it.
This way of looking at the development of your art and your creative business is essentially related to the styles of learning presented by Carol Black in her essay entitled “On the Wilderness of Children.” In this essay, Black discusses how some communities in the world have a very open-ended approach to learning. The child is given complete freedom and trust to explore what he or she desires and is attracted to without the pressure of a time frame or government standards.
“In many rural land-based societies, learning is not coerced; children are expected to voluntarily observe, absorb, practice, and master the knowledge and skills they will need as adults–and they do. In these societies, which exist on every inhabited continent, even very young children are free to choose their own actions, to play, to explore, to participate, to take on meaningful responsibility. ‘Learning’ is not conceived as a special activity at all, but as a natural by-product of being alive in the world.”
“Researchers are finding that children in these settings spend most of their time in a completely different attentional state from children in modern schools, a state psychology researcher Suzanne Gaskins calls ‘open attention.’ Open attention is widely focused, relaxed, alert; Gaskins suggests it may have much in common with the Buddhist concept of ‘mindfulness.’ If something moves in the broad field of perception, the child will notice it. If something interesting happens, he can watch for hours. A child in this state seems to absorb her culture by osmosis, by imperceptible degrees picking up what the adults talk about, what they do, how they think, what they know.”
When you are simply following your real passion, when you let it guide you–you will find your way to success.
In the world of disruptive entrepreneurs with high stakes and high risks, having grit is an absolute must.
Without it, it’d be impossible to endure the constant trial and error, the “failing fast.” As a creative entrepreneur, you are likely in less of a rush to get to the top, and you are not out to prove how much value your business has so you can attract investors. Your art is your focus, your end goal. Obviously, you will need to make money, and it is the characteristic of grit that has helped many creatives move away from the starving artist stereotype.
But be careful to not let an all-consuming desire to just do the work overpower the quality of and passion for your art. Use and develop your instinct and your creative skills to make beautiful things. Use and develop your grit to make sure that the world sees what you have made.