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Success: Pure Talent or something else?

Author: Sarah Borg, Dip. HE (Melit.); B.A. (Hons) (Melit.)

July saw some of us receiving exam results. While some indulged in their success, others might have been let down by their results. Although the high achievers are the ones who often receive the most praise and attention, growing research is highlighting the importance of grit, perseverance and a growth mindset as qualities to aspire for.

What is Grit?

Angela Duckworth, the writer of the book Grit: Why Passion and Resilience are the Secrets to Success, is a key source of information about this quality because she has studied it thoroughly through a grit survey she formulated and used on different age groups in multiple settings. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals” and equates it with “having stamina…[and] sticking with your future, day in, day out…for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

One of Duckworth’s findings is that through enough dedication and repetition, grit can even grow. And the good news is that grit is not a quality which you are either born with or without; like many other qualities, it can be cultivated. Another interesting finding was that being talented, gifted, or even a genius does not necessarily make you gritty. In fact, there is enough evidence to suggest that grit and talent are often inversely related.

Perseverance: why passion alone is not enough

The finding that success is not limited to the exceptionally gifted may tempt us into thinking that if we are passionate enough about our goals, then we can make them happen. The truth is that passion and drive may ignite the engine but they are not enough to take us to the final destination.

As Steven Pressfield harps on in his world-famous books, if you want to succeed in something, you need to show up for it on a regular basis and carry out the appropriate actions required for your end goal to become reality. In time, such actions would become part of your daily habits. Persevering through these necessary habits even when you do not feel like, even when all your friends are doing the exact opposite, is what will set you apart from the rest. Refusing to call it quits after consecutive failed attempts, hanging in there through the rainy days, pushing on even when you feel hopeless…this is what will get you there.

What if I miss the train? The value of a growth mindset

We know that some trains won’t necessarily come again. And some others are simply not meant for us. In the face of challenges, failure, disappointment or helplessness, a growth mindset offers a healthy way forward. This term, coined by Dr Carol Dweck, refers to the belief in one’s ability to become better through hard work, and help from others. As opposed to a fixed mindset, which believes that one either possesses a quality or doesn’t, a growth mindset believes in the possibility of learning new skills and improving oneself through enough work, support and even time. Therefore, a missed train is seen as an opportunity to discover a new one.

A growth mindset is the opposite of today’s instant gratification culture. Whereas the latter thrives in immediate comfort and pleasure, a growth mindset is more long-term oriented. Operating on the principle of slow but steady progress in pursuit of an end goal, it embraces the qualities of grit and perseverance mentioned above.

How Therapy can Help

Some things in life are better done with others’ support. When your efforts alone would not be enough, it might be much more rewarding in the long-term to be humble and ask for guidance, rather than opting for quick fixes that do not offer any lessons. The following are five of many ways in which therapy can help you in relation to the qualities discussed in this article:

  1. Accountability

A counsellor can be the person who you might opt to be accountable to in your efforts to be gritty and perseverant, in a way that maximises your chances of achieving your long-term goals.

  • Encouragement

A counsellor can be a source of positive reinforcement when you make a step forward. They will be the go-to professional who would be genuinely happy for your success and who would encourage you to keep up your great work.

  • Support and Motivation

A counsellor can also provide empathy and support you when you make a step backward. They might remind you of your potential, challenge you and reiterate your original quest, thus increasing the chances of your renewed motivation to get back on track in pursuit of your goals.

  • Exploration, Insights and Opportunities for Growth

Together with a counsellor, you can explore whether there are areas in your life where you have a fixed mindset, and whether you tend to adopt a growth mindset in other areas. Together you can come up with interesting insights and opportunities for growth.

  • Changing the Narrative as a Source of Empowerment

In therapy, the right conditions would be provided so that you might:

  • recognise that you have a choice
  • be mindful of the story that you tell yourself
  • adapt the words in your narrative (e.g. “learning” instead of “failing” etc)

To sum up, success is not limited to the genius, the high-achiever or the lucky one. Many times, success is the outcome of hard work. Moreover, long-term success is not based on a single burst of effort or a momentary wish to achieve your goals. Instead, it is often achieved through a series of little efforts done consistently and devotedly while always keeping your end goal in mind. Making steps backwards in your journey is not a catastrophe either. Therapy can support you during the dark patches of your experience and it can also offer a safe space to celebrate the joyful and most rewarding parts of your journey.

References

Duckworth, A. (2017). Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. Ebury Publishing

Mindset Works (n.d.) Dr. Dweck’s research into growth mindset changed education forever. https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/             

Pressfield, S (2022). Put your ass where your heart wants to be. Sarsaparilla Media LLC

This project has been funded by the Small Initiatives Support Scheme (SIS) managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector (MCVS)

This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the MCVS cannot be held responsible for the content or any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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