Grit: The #1 Quality That Will Make or Break You as an Entrepreneur

Janine Perri

WealthFit Contributor

For any question you have about starting a business, GRIT is the answer. Grit is the number one characteristic all-star athletes, renowned artists, elite students, top investors, and successful entrepreneurs have in common. How gritty are you? I have good news: you can GROW grit. You can become more gritty with practice and perseverance. If you’re not gritty, now’s the time to transform yourself into an elite competitor.

In the early 1920s, a newspaper artist working at the Kansas City Star dreamed of quitting his full-time job and founding a company dedicated to creating animated cartoons, which were gaining popularity at the time.

The artist-turned-entrepreneur partnered with his co-worker to create their self-named animation studio. The company failed within a year. The entrepreneur made a second attempt with a company he called Laugh-O-Gram Studio.

That failed, too.

With two failed companies and no successful animated features released, it appeared that the entrepreneur’s former boss at the Kansas City Star may have been right when he said his employee “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

The entrepreneur made a third attempt, this time bringing on more talent, leveraging new financial resources, and learning from his previous mistakes. And in 1923, he created the animation studio that bears his name: Disney.

He would go on to create a series of theme parks, a merchandising machine, and a media empire that re-shaped the entertainment industry.

So how did Disney overcome his previous failures and become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the modern age?

He had a little something called “grit.”

Grit: Passion and Perseverance

In her New York Times bestseller Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth discusses the phenomenon of “grit” and its role in professional and academic success.

Contrary to popular opinion, Duckworth’s research indicates that success doesn’t depend on talent. It depends on intensely focusing on a goal with passion and perseverance.

How gritty are you? Find out by taking Duckworth’s grit survey.

In Disney’s case, his unwavering belief in his vision allowed him to learn from his failures, without letting them bog him down. This tenacity is essential to start a new venture in any industry and at any stage of life.

So now that you know what “grit” is—how do you acquire it and use it to your advantage when embarking on your entrepreneurial adventure? Here are a few tips to keep in mind to harness the power of grit and make it work for starting your own business.

With time and practice, anyone can have grit.

You might be thinking that entrepreneurs like Walt Disney, or Elon Musk, or Bill Gates are exceptional cases and that grit can only be attained by those who create multi-billion dollar enterprises.

While these are some of the most frequently cited examples of individuals who overcame the odds to achieve success, grit is defined not by the magnitude of the end result, but by the individual’s commitment to a long-term goal.

In a recent TED Talk, Duckworth discusses her experiences in translating grit to a variety of different contexts. She explains that in an educational setting, high IQs do not correlate with students’ abilities to perform well academically—but perseverance and hard work do.

She has found the same pattern holds true for contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, cadets going through military training at West Point, and entrepreneurs and business owners across industries. Grit can be attained by anyone.

That means that whether your startup is a new app, a professional services firm, or a small business like a local dry cleaning shop, your first step in developing grit is having a clear goal to work towards.

Your goal may be hitting a certain amount of revenue in a year, scaling the business, hiring a certain number of employees, expanding to new markets, or becoming an industry (or local) leader in your field. Set the goal and works towards it with passion and perseverance.

Learn To Embrace And Grow From Failure

You’ve heard the mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This, more than anything else, encompasses the essence of grit—the willingness and ability to accept mistakes and move forward, making decisions based on your newfound wisdom and experience.

History is filled with examples of successful individuals who experienced failure first—actually, it’s rare that someone gets it right the first time around! Thomas Edison is known for making 1,000 failed attempts to invent the light bulb. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected 12 times before J.K. Rowling’s signature work was finally accepted by a publisher.

In the case of your startup, this might mean failing to attract VC investment for the first few rounds, going through a bankruptcy, attempting to scale too quickly, or doing trial and error for your first few marketing campaigns. The important takeaway is to analyze your mistakes, see what could have been done differently, and keep going.

Redirecting Is Not The Same As Giving Up

Sometimes a failure can be an opportunity in disguise. Inventions like chocolate chip cookies, post-it notes, and x-rays were created when the inventor was trying to make something else. You may discover that the path you are taking leads to a different end goal than the one was envisioned originally.

And that’s okay!

Refining your goal as you gain more experience and learn more about your industry, your customers, or your personal style of business ownership does not mean that you are a quitter or that you lack the grit to succeed.

It is more important to make educated choices and redirect accordingly based on your entrepreneurial journey and do what will be best for you and your business.

Having grit doesn’t mean going it alone.

Having “grit” does not mean doing everything by yourself or never asking for help. Working with a trusted business partner or having a mentor can help you achieve your goals faster and more effectively.

Indeed, having someone to motivate you throughout your process of starting a business can strengthen your grit. Even if you don’t have a specific partner or mentor, be comfortable working with other experts, such as venture capitalists, lawyers, or other subject matter experts who can help you get where you need to be.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, And Stay Humble

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs encouraged the new graduates to “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” in pursuit of their dreams, echoing Duckworth’s focus on perseverance and passion.

To achieve grit, it is worth adding one more adjective to Jobs’s list—“Stay Humble.” You will make mistakes along the way to success.

You will learn difficult lessons and you might face skepticism from people who don’t believe in you or your idea. Without humility, you can get more easily discouraged and want to quit.

Or if you start becoming successful, too much pride can lead to carelessness or make you want to rest on your laurels and not keep working to improve your business or idea.

But by adhering to the principles of perseverance, passion, and humility, you can become more gritty and drive your business to success.


Written By

Janine Perri

Janine Perri is a freelance writer and marketing professional with experience writing about business, marketing, education, travel, and language services.

Read more about Janine




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