May 2014: Grit: Persistence Alone Is Omnipotent

I read a lot about performance, leadership, success, management, and relationships.  Many will suggest that raw intelligence is the primary success factor (IQ), a more popular one in the past 25 years is (EQ) from an article called “Emotional Intelligence” by Peter Salovey and John “Jack” Mayer in 1990. Having a strong network and little bit of luck can be contributing factors as well argue others. But this month for 90-Second In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) blog I want to address a trait that I believe has a great deal to do with my own success as well as the success of many others. I want to talk about persistence.


Everyone who knows me well knows I am a sucker for a good quote.  I am the person they invented Successories for (not the snarky ones – the original motivational ones that seem to adorn every corporate hallway and corner office throughout the 90’s). So I want to share three quotes I found through Successories.


The first is my all-time favorite quote:


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

- Aristotle


To me this means having the discipline to put in the hours and hours to get good at something, to excel and be successful.  People that are persistent have what it takes to focus and work hard at a skill or task over and over again. Those who are not – didn’t have the grit to stick with it.  This is also made popular recently with the rule of 10,000 hours put forward in “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.


The second is by one of the lesser celebrated U.S. Presidents:


“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

- Calvin Coolidge


To me, this is a brilliant, concise statement about life. People may have all kinds of advantages, but none are more important than the ability to persevere and keep going and going.  I know that I may not be good looking, or smarter than others, or better educated – but no one can match my focus when I really want something. I will stay the course and suffer setback and outright failure – but nothing will stop me from eventually achieving my goals. Nothing. How about you?  How do you deal with critics and setbacks?  Before you quit something or give up – next time pause, reflect, and ask yourself if you can drive on. Success might be right around the corner and closer than you think.


The third is from a more familiar figure…one of the GREATEST leaders in history:


He failed in business in ’31.
He was defeated for state legislator in ’32.
He tried another business in ’33. It failed.
His fiancée died in ’35.
He had a nervous breakdown in ’36.
In ’43 he ran for congress and was defeated.
He tried again in ’48 and was defeated again.
He tried running for the Senate in ’55. He lost.
The next year he ran for Vice President and lost.
In ’59 he ran for the Senate again and was defeated.


In 1860, the man who signed his name A. Lincoln, was elected the 16th President of the United States.


The difference between history’s boldest accomplishments and its most staggering failures is often, simply, the diligent will to persevere.


Think about it – he had not less than 10 major failures in his life.  TEN!  What if he had quit? What if he resigned himself to that fact that true greatness and success had eluded him?  Where would our country be today?


Don’t like dead guy quotes?  How about this more contemporary one?


“I see people all the time who are better rappers than me, better actors than me, better looking than me.  But my ace in the hole is my dangerously obsessive drive, you know? I’m a terminator.  I absolutely, positively will not stop until I win.”

- Any guess who said this? (answer at bottom)


This month I will not curate my typical set of 3-5 articles – I will only ask that you find 18 minutes sometime in the next week or so and watch this one single video.


True Grit: Can Perseverance be Taught?

Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Angela studies non-IQ competencies that predict success both academically and professionally. Her research populations have included West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee finalists, novice teachers, salespeople, and students.



Don’t have 18 minutes?  Here is her 6 minute version.(4.2million views and counting…)

“Growth Mindset…more likely to persevere because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition”


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Tom Deierlein





Answer: Will Smith