Women, Grit and Success

“Three failures denote uncommon strength.  A weakling has not enough grit to fail thrice.” – Minna Thomas Antrim

In April 2013, Angela Duckworth gave a seven-minute TED talk during which she explained her theory of “grit” as a predictor of success. While teaching seventh grade math, Ms. Duckworth noticed that IQ was not the only difference between her best and worst performing students. In fact, she noticed that some of her strongest performers did not have “stratospheric” IQs and that some of her smartest students simply did not perform very well. Although she felt that the math she taught was hard, she believed that each of her students, if they worked long and hard enough, could learn the material.  Her experience made her wonder if doing well in school and in life depended upon more than just a person’s ability to learn quickly and easily.

Ultimately, Ms. Duckworth left the classroom and went to graduate school to become a psychologist. After completing her degree, she began studying children and adults in a wide range of challenging settings focusing in on those who were successful and the reasons for their success. She found that in a wide variety of contexts, one significant indicator emerged as a predictor of success – grit.

What is grit? Well, Ms. Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it a bit differently, as “firmness of mind or spirit.”  However, regardless of the definition, Ms. Duckworth admits that the true “essence” of grit remains elusive.

The connection between grit and success caught the attention of the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession (ABA Women’s Commission). In 2012, a study was conducted to identify the common characteristics of women who made it to the top ranks of law firms. The results of the study revealed two common traits among highly successful women lawyers – grit and a growth mindset. In light of this study, the ABA Women’s Commission started “The Grit Project,” a program designed to educate women about the science behind grit and a growth mindset. According to the commission, both grit and mindset can be learned and developed under the right conditions.

While I do agree that grit is one predictor of success, I do not agree entirely with Ms. Duckworth’s definition that grit is solely “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Like many, I have known gritty people who were not able to consider “long-term” goals but had to instead react to immediate needs. Instead, I would suggest that grit is “perseverance and passion for a goal or end result regardless of whether it is short or long term.”

So, as women, how can we become more “gritty” on our journey towards achieving success?  Below are a few suggestions:

  1. Be courageous. Work on managing your fear of failure. Women who are gritty are not afraid of failure and embrace it as part of the growth process. Keep in mind that your amount of courage is directly proportional to your level of grit.
  2. Be conscientious. According to Ms. Duckworth, of the five personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neurotic – conscientiousness is the most closely associated with grit. Women who are achievement-oriented, meaning, those who work tirelessly, doing their best to do a good job day in and day out and who complete assigned tasks, are the most gritty.
  3. Strive for excellence and don’t worry about trying to be perfect. Remember that excellence is an attitude and not an endgame. It involves putting quality into everything we do in both our personal and professional lives. Forget trying to be perfect.  Perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal and chasing it will only lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and possibly even worse things that are nothing but barriers to success.
  4. Be resilient regardless of the obstacles. The path to success is never easy and is filled with untold obstacles. As we progress on our journey, it is inevitable that we will from time to time make a few missteps and stumble.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” A number of factors are believed to contribute to resilience.  These include having: (a) caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family; (b) the capacity to make realistic plans and taking steps to carry them out; (c) a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strength and abilities; (d) good communication and problem-solving skills; and (e) the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. Strive to become more resilient by working on improving or increasing one or more of these factors.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller.

This entry was posted in Angela Duckworth, confidence, Grit, Lisa L. Mueller, Michael Best & Friedrich, success, Women, Women Blog Posts, Women Blogs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Women, Grit and Success

  1. hnadgauda says:

    While grit is certainly key to being successful, grit combined with a growth mindset is a more realistic approach to achieving results. Salman Khan of Khan Academy also stressed the importance of a growth mindset. He encourages giving praise on not the end result but the process involved in achieving said result to help develop a growth mindset.


  2. Hanan Awaad says:

    Hi Lisa,
    I liked your article so much … I also believe that many women suffer what is known as “Imposter Syndrome,” three types of impostor feelings: fear of failure, fear of success and low self-esteem. To overcome these feelings , we need to recognize and acknowledge the impostor feelings; conduct a personal SWOT analysis ; craft a personal value proposition ; compete only with oneself ; and to stop being a hamster in a wheel.

    Hanan Awaad
    President – Corporita Inc.


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