My journey to connect with purpose and passion.

The Hard Truth About Grit and Determination

Photo credit:  William Stitt

Photo credit: William Stitt

Selection bias in action.

I want to talk about Grit and Determination. The gold label of self-help preaching.

Grit and Determination do NOT guarantee success. They are a predicate for success only. This means they are required, for sure, but alone they are not enough.

The Internet drowns us in inspirational messages that glorify the tireless pursuit: Crush it, fight for what you love, do the work, show up.

But here’s what they don’t tell us: that the tireless pursuit leads as often to failure as it does success.

We look at the most driven and successful at something and we assume their drive is the number one factor for their success. And many successful artists (and business people) would agree.

By only looking at what a few “successful” people did, we are entering the realm of selection bias.

Selection bias is a common type of error where the decision about who to include in a study can throw findings into doubt.

But a few understand that there were hundreds of people just as skilled and driven as they were who didn’t get the breaks they did.

These voices are easy to miss in a world where we are told over and over to just stick with it, to push harder and to knuckle down and persevere. Which is not a bad thing, in and of itself.

After all, Grit and Determination are the prerequisites for success at something. They create the conditions. Without them, success is impossible. But alone, they are not enough. A catalyst is still needed.

And in almost every case I’ve ever read, that catalyst is not talent, skill or even financial backing. It almost always comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

Or to put it differently, it’s about doing the work and showing up for the months, years or decades that it takes for opportunity to strike and the catalyst to light the fire.

I hate to type these words, but the catalyst for realizing our dreams is luck.

It is what happens when we continue to work at something year after year with no return, forever honing our skills. For some people, being in the right place at the right time happens quickly. For others, it takes years, or even a lifetime. For some it happens after they have left this world. For some it just never happens.

I realize this idea could take the wind out of our sails. But I see it as a powerful way to focus our creative efforts.

Our creative life is not a sprint.

It is a life-long marathon.

So if you are doubled over and gasping for breath at the side of the race, doubting whether you can continue, remember that your break is as likely to be ten steps away as it is a mile.

So catch your breath and get back to creating. And just be sure the journey is something you love doing.

Sean HowardComment