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Getting Gritty: Finding Creative Success with Passion and Perseverance

When it comes to succeeding in art, I’m learning a critical lesson.

That lesson is this: if I want my art to be celebrated anywhere besides my hard drive/notebooks/journals/etc., talent alone won't help me achieve my creative goals. Any one of us can have mounds of talent when it comes to creativity, but the fact remains that "talent" is a noun. That means isn't a call to action. It doesn't move us forward by it's own virtue. Instead, we can take talent, box it up, put it away, and ignore it. Or, we can use it, but keep it to ourselves. (I'm guilty of magnetizing my talent: creating a force around it so it sticks close to home, when I should be trying to get my work published.)

Obviously, there’s a another option.

We can turn talent into a verb.

I’ll call this verb-alizing talent, and in a way, it is. Being vocal about talent is one means of putting talent into action. Before we go running our mouths about talent, verb-alizing it means having a plan. The plan is adding passion and perseverance to the talent mix.

That magical combination of passion and perseverance is what author and psychologist Angela Duckworth calls grit.

Grit moves tangible talent forward, and Duckworth argues that it’s the necessary undercurrent for success.

She created a ten-point questionnaire that allows us to test our grit. That questionnaire can be found here. Feeling pretty sandpaper-ish myself, I answered the grit scale questions by focusing on my creative life. As it turns out, I’m grittier than many; mostly, when it comes to the creative portion of my life.

Ranking yourself on the Grit Scale has a lot to do with not overthinking things, and self-assessing in the following areas:

  • Level of distractibility when shiny new projects and ideas appear

  • Impact of setbacks

  • Goal stick-to-it-iveness

  • Hard work, diligence, and follow-through

  • Changing interests

  • Obsessibility

After answering a few simple questions in these areas, you’ll receive a number, and an assessment as to where you fall in comparison to most of the population in terms of your sheer grit.

So, I find out I’ve got some grit. Cool. Maybe you’ve got grit, too, or maybe you’re a little distractible. Let’s talk about how the scale swings. Duckworth tells me that I’m grittier now than I was a decade, or even two decades ago. And this first has to do with finding and discovering my passion, which can often look like one thing, but evolve over time into something similar, but not quite the same.

For example, I can’t quite get myself to finish a novel, but this magazine thing is the bees knees. And while we’re on the subject of passion plus perseverance, I haven’t skipped a blog post in over a year. Knock on wood, but I’ve faithfully stuck to this weekly posting schedule despite full-time jobs (plural), countless hobbies, my own company, children, migraines, oh, and this pesky pandemic.

Pretty gritty, eh? Try telling that to the version of me in my early thirties who wanted to write/publish/best-sell a novel. That person was smooth like butter. Fast forward a decade and I barely recognize my own tenacity. What changed? My goals. I honed in on the driving force.

A common theme in Duckworth’s book is that we’re often told to “follow our passion,” when the advice we should be given is “figure out our passion.” Doing so, and really drilling down into those key driving details will aid us later in life in becoming (one of my favorite concepts), grit beacons. On the brightside? We can become grittier with practice. Turns out, we have a tendency to practice what we love.

One key to teaching yourself hope, and thereby expanding your gritty ways, is to put yourself into a growth mindset. Do this, Duckworth says, by providing yourself with optimistic self-talk, and maintaining perseverance over adversity. Marry that to your gut instinct, and things, in my humble guesstimate, should generally work out well.

Turn your talent into a verb. Watch what happens. Grit that sh*t.

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