by Mina Simhai

“Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”—Angela Duckworth

How did Rowdy Gaines earn three Olympic gold medals in swimming in the 1984 Games? Was he more talented than other swimmers? Maybe, but it was grit that drove him to log enough miles to swim all the way around the world in his years training for a 49-second race.

Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance over the long run. The passion that Angela Duckworth describes in the quote above is more akin to the love celebrated on a golden anniversary than the infatuation of newlyweds. According to Duckworth, the sustainability of passion, not its intensity, matters most when it comes to grit. Can we steadily be passionate about the same topic or work over decades, or do we jump from topic to topic every few years?

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth writes, “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Endurance allows us to remain engaged and committed to what we do, year in and year out. It’s that enduring passion that allows us to log the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that distinguishes world-class experts.

Interest and purpose are both essential to finding passion that lasts. Interest can develop into enduring passion; through purpose, we can direct that passion toward bettering our world.

We discover our passions by trying things out, not through introspection. There’s no neat checklist that will tell us what our passions are—only the messy, sometimes serendipitous process of experimentation. Sometimes discovery strikes without warning: For example, Duckworth describes Julia Child’s first sublime bite of sole meuniere as “a revelation”—one that would eventually lead to a wildly successful career.

During the discovery phase, Duckworth recommends we ask ourselves questions such as

  • What do I like to think about?
  • How do I enjoy spending my time?
  • What do I find absolutely unbearable?

According to Duckworth, once we’ve discovered a passion, we develop it by building on the answers we are surest of, experimenting through trial and error, and being willing to change our focus. One revelation is not a passion. Passion is developed through many related experiences that continue to pique our interest. For Julia Child, that sole meuniere kindled a spark that she fed with more delicious meals in Parisian bistros, reading French cookbooks, cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, and becoming friendly with fishmongers, butchers, and produce vendors—all of which led her toward her lasting passion.

As we deepen our passions, we come to appreciate the nuances, finding novelty in the familiar. We stay curious, asking more questions and looking under the surface. Deepening our passions requires patience and creativity.

As we develop and deepen our passion, we can shape it through purpose, which Duckworth defines as “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” Purpose is a tremendously powerful source of motivation, she says. In Grit, she retells the parable of the three bricklayers: When asked what they are doing, the first replies, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” The third answers, “I am building the house of God.” Which bricklayer do you think will be grittier throughout the long process of construction?

Ready to dig into grit—what it is, why it matters, and how we can get more of it? Join me for our next book discussion, with special guest Phoebe Atkinson—executive coach and therapist, passionate WBI teaching assistant mentor, and gritty gal!

Mark your calendar:
When: Tuesday, December 6, 7:30 pm ET
Conference Call Dial in: 323-476-3997
Conference ID: 218555#
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Mina Simhai earned her Certificate in Positive Psychology from the Wholebeing Institute, and served as a teaching assistant for CiPP4. She is also a recovering lawyer, yoga teacher and mother. Her latest project is bringing the tools of positive psychology to lawyers and others in the DC area and across the country. Her top strengths are judgment, love of learning, curiosity, love, and appreciation of beauty. Mina is an avid reader and looks forward to launching the WBI Book Club with you.