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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Skill You Need to Make All Your Dreams Come True—and How to Get it Today

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Pinning down how to achieve success can be difficult since everyone defines it differently. But one thing is clear: You need inner grit to get wherever it is you want to go. Whether that’s building a thriving company from the ground up, writing a novel, managing a publication, heading a marketing team, leading a group of engineers, or opening a restaurant, you can’t do it without grit.

In her famous TED talk, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth argues that studies show that it’s grit, not intelligence, that is the major predictor of success. Duckworth says that while intelligence and talent are unarguably favorable assets, anyone can be successful if they work hard and apply tenacious, dogged perseverance toward their goal. As Dolly Parton famously quipped: “Above everything else I’ve done, I’ve always said I’ve had more guts than I’ve got talent.”

Business owners, hedge-fund managers, innovators of technology, and renowned journalists are who and where they are because they acted with determination. By honing their inner grit and refusing to give up, they achieved goals and triumphed professionally. No matter what the broadly-defined word success means to you, you too can get there.

Here’s how:

1. Make Fear Your Friend

Tim Ferriss, author of the wildly successful The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, keeps a placard reminder on his work desk that reads, “Do one thing that scares you every day.” Those few words represent the importance of challenging yourself of a daily basis. Progress comes with change, and if you never try anything new, you’re going to one day find yourself in a professional rut, not to mention a pretty boring life.

Of course, facing your biggest fears is never easy. What works for me is writing down the things that scare me, and then breaking them up into small, manageable steps. For example, when I first started my blog I was very new to the online world and felt insecure and overwhelmed about all the things I needed to learn and do to get it up and running. After making a task-specific list, I took it one day at a time and worked at getting things done in digestible pieces. My courage bolstered, and I eventually experienced major breakthroughs.

2. Stay True to Your Vision

As Duckworth said in her TED talk, “Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

It's a sentiment worth reflecting on. If you really want something, you’re going to have to work long and hard at it. There’s no way around the time commitment, because overnight success isn’t really a reality for most of us. Fortunately, if the thing you’re set on achieving (becoming head of sales at your company or being the lead project manager of your organization’s creative department) is something you feel passionately about, you’ll likely have a deep intrinsic motivator that acts as a constant reminder that your efforts are worth doing.

If things ever start to feel insurmountable, remember never to lose sight of your vision and do everything in your power to remain focused on your goals. When you start to forget why you are even going after your long-term goal, take a moment to reflect on what you’re doing and write down your reasons, along with steps you’ve taken thus far to get there.

3. Be Persistent

The third and essential way of finding your inner grit is to understand persistence. Duckworth emphasizes that it is the consistency, which goes hand-in-hand with persistence—and not intensity—that defines grit. Instead of engaging in a short-term behavior binge (e.g., exceeding first quarter sales goals by 25%), you need to demonstrate consistent behaviors that will move you toward the success you are seeking. Maybe, in keeping with the sales example, this means not only meeting or exceeding your goals but also working with team members to help them meet theirs.

There are countless ways of practicing persistence in your career. I recommend starting with something small and building from there. Want to change careers? Don’t just apply to jobs in your new field, get out there and network, figure out the skills you need to acquire to make the transition, and begin obtaining them.

Regardless of how unmotivated you’ll sometimes feel (and trust me, this is a feeling we all experience) to work hard, don’t allow it to be negotiable; persistence means sticking to a regular routine for as long as it takes.

I’ve interviewed a lot of amazing people who’ve reached their goals by way of winding and atypical paths. You know how they attained their goals? Inner grit.

Brandon Weeks, a Portland-based pastry chef and entrepreneur, is one such example of a person who was forced to find his inner grit to make it in his career. Understanding the importance of persistence and vision, Weeks told me that, “Once you decide what path you’re going to take, just do something every day to move forward in that direction. It could be something as small as making one phone call, or as big as launching a website or signing a lease. It doesn’t matter, just as long as it’s something.”

To reiterate, grit is learned; it is a matter of facing fears, following through, keeping the vision always in clear sight, and never giving up.

Photo of man climbing a mountain courtesy of Shutterstock.

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