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Start Your Business Entrepreneurs

Grit: The Elusive (But Essential) Entrepreneurial Trait

image for fizkes / Getty Images
fizkes / Getty Images
  • To succeed, entrepreneurs need grit.
  • There are five main characteristics of grit.
  • Perfection is not the same as excellence.

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 "grit," and many of those definitions mention passion and perseverance. Caroline Adams Miller, author of Getting Grit (Sounds True, 2017), 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."

To have grit means that you have the courage and strength to show your character. When you have true grit, you have passion and perseverance. You work incredibly hard on your goals and follow through with all of your commitments, even when faced with adversity.

Grit has several components, according to Miller. 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.]

Here are the five main characteristics of grit, according to psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth:

  1. Courage: Everyone has fears, but finding the courage to push past them is a sign of grit. Courage also involves perseverance. It means understanding the lessons that failures can teach and applying those lessons to future situations.

  2. Conscientiousness: This entrepreneurial trait means that you are intentional in your actions and that others can depend on you to get the job done.

  3. Endurance: Entrepreneurs are in it for the long haul. This means that you are committed to your goals and plans. You realize that things may not happen quickly, and you are ready for the long journey to success.

  4. Resilience: This trait shows your ability to get back up after you've been knocked down. Being resilient means handling whatever setbacks come your way.

  5. Excellence: Be careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Grit involves doing your best, but it does not necessarily mean you will be perfect at everything. 

An example of grit is when you are on a team and, no matter what challenges the team faces, constantly encourage everyone to do better. Even in the face of defeat, you highlight the positive and help the team learn a lesson.

Authentic grit is about having goals that 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 said.

She suggested learning these three key abilities to achieve authentic grit:

  • Focus: Learn to focus on one thing at a time so you can gain deep understanding of how to create new pathways to success.

  • Passion: Pick 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, and make sure you aren't bragging constantly about accomplishing hard things.

  • Stupid grit: Stupid grit is pursuing goals even if you hurt 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 the honest risk of not lying about anything, or pretending to be something you're not, to assess whether people still accept you.

People who exhibit 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 your focus quickly, Miller said.

These people 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 your goals.

"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."

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.