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Grit: The Elusive (But Essential) Entrepreneurial Trait

Grit: The Elusive (But Essential) Entrepreneurial Trait
Credit: Uber Images/Shutterstock

If you're familiar with the startup world, you've likely heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about a quality called "grit."

There are many ways to define this trait, many of which reference passion and perseverance. Author Caroline Adams Miller, for one, defines it as "the passionate pursuit of hard goals that awes and inspires you and others to become better people, flourish emotionally, take positive risks, and live your best lives."

There are a number of components to grit, said Miller, who wrote "Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance and Purpose" (Sounds True, 2017). However, at the root of it is "ikigai," the Japanese term for "that which I wake up for" – in other words, your purpose.

"When we have a purpose that is authentic and connected directly to what we want to pursue for its own intrinsic value, it fills us with the passion that supports us through difficult times and challenging setbacks," Miller said. [What is entrepreneurship? Here's how various experts define it.]

Authentic grit, said Miller, is about having goals that actually make people want to become better because they witness the humility, patience, risk-taking, self-confidence and self-regulation that you demonstrate as you pursue those goals.

Miller suggests learning these three key abilities in order to achieve authentic grit:

  • Focus. Learn to focus on one thing at a time so you can go deeply into understanding how to create new pathways to success.
  • Passion. Take an interest you have and make a deliberate choice to immerse yourself in that topic to see if it's something you can become passionate about.
  • Humility. Interview someone about the hardest thing they have ever accomplished and tell others about it instead of trumpeting your own accomplishments. Don't post selfies for a week. Don't interrupt anyone else in conversation and make sure that the spotlight remains on them. Ask open-ended learning questions that start with "how" and "what" so that you can expand your knowledge.

While grit is important, there are a few "bad" versions of this trait that could end up doing more harm than good. In her book, Miller defines three types of negative grit and how to avoid developing them:

  • Selfie grit: Cultivate more humility cultivate more humility and make sure you aren't bragging constantly about accomplishing hard things.
  • Stupid grit: Stupid grit is pursuing goals at all costs in spite of hurting yourself or others. Develop relationships with other professionals and peers who will give you honest, critical feedback that you will heed.
  • Faux grit: People with faux or false grit often aren't satisfied with who they are and what they've done, so they puff themselves up. They take credit for doing hard things that they haven't actually done. The antidote is to take risks around not lying about anything, or pretending to be something you're not, to assess whether or not people still accept you.

People who exhibit good, authentic grit don't often lose time to wasted motion in technology, other people's goals, or being reactive, so learning from those people can change focus quickly, said Miller.

"[They] are always surrounding themselves with similar people of passion and the ability to do hard work," she told Business News Daily. "The fastest way I've found to getting grit and staying gritty is to change the norms in your life around who you spend time with and how you spend your leisure time."

Miller also advised "priming" your daily work environment with reminders of the goals you're pursuing.

"The more you are surrounded by slogans, pictures and other reminders of where you are hoping to go in life, the more likely you are to be pulled forward with enthusiasm and curiosity to those places," she said.

Jennifer Post

Jennifer Post graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Having worked in the food industry, print and online journalism, and marketing, she is now a freelance contributor for Business News Daily and Business.com. When she's not working, you will find her exploring her current town of Cape May, NJ or binge watching Pretty Little Liars for the 700th time.