Grit! Part 2 | Inquirer Business

Grit! Part 2

In a 2014 Gallup survey, more than two-thirds of US adults reported they were not engaged at work. Lest we think something is wrong with the American workplace, employees in 140 countries (except Canada) scored worse, saying they were “not engaged” or even “actively disengaged”.

Only 13 percent of adults worldwide said they love what they do for a living.


How can we reconcile this finding with the advice given by parents, teachers and speakers for children to follow their passion? If given the choice, almost all young people today would choose to work for a certain company or nongovernment organization only if they are passionate about it.

How come the vast majority are disengaged at work?


According to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, instead of following our passion, it would be wiser to foster it.

Instead of falling in love with something and falling out of love just as quickly, we need to learn to prioritize our interests, choose a passion, spend time and effort in sustaining it, until finally, we stay in love and dedicate ourselves to it.

Deliberate practice

In hundreds of studies with Fortune 500 companies, NBA and NFL teams and the Ivy League, Duckworth finds that grit—which she defines as a combination of passion, perseverance and hope—is what ultimately determines success.

Not smarts:  many smart people who have excelled at easy tasks in childhood tend to give up when confronted with harder ones in college or in the workplace. Not even empathy: sensitive and kind people are popular, but may not achieve professional success if they surrender when the going gets tough.

After a career spent advising CEOs, business guru Peter Drucker says effective management “demands doing certain—things. It consists of a … number of practices.”

Not just mindless practice, but deliberate practice.


Last week, we learned how family businesses can prioritize goals into a manageable number (ideally, a maximum of five goals serving one ultimate mission).

Now, ensure that the goals are stretch goals—not impossible to reach, but not too easy to attain.  Choose a clearly defined stretch goal, apply full concentration and effort, ask for immediate and informative feedback, and repeat the process, reflecting and refining along the way.

Unfortunately, while we may often put in the hard work, we are not improving because we do not have any feedback on how to do better. We need to learn from mistakes.

Psychologists Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong know that toddlers and kids don’t mind learning from mistakes.  When they struggle to sit, stand, or walk, they encounter a lot of falls, but after much concentration, practice and feedback, they finally master skills.

But when children enter school, “they begin to notice that their mistakes inspire certain reactions in grownups … We frown.  Our cheeks flush… We rush over … to point out that they’ve done something wrong … The lesson we’re teaching? Embarrassment. Fear. Shame.”

Failure is a bad thing, so to protect themselves, children stop trying.


Yale management professor Amy Wrzesniewski asked employees whether they view their work as a job (a necessity, like eating or sleeping), a career (a stepping stone to other paths) or a calling (a mission in life).

Very few consider their work a calling. When Duckworth tested these employees, she found, not surprisingly, they also scored higher on grit.

“My work makes the world a better place,” they say.  More satisfied overall with their lives, they missed at least one-third fewer work days than the rest.

Does this mean some jobs, like priesthood or civic service, are more of a calling?  While others, like accountancy or family businesses, are mere jobs or only career paths?

Certainly not. How we perceive our work matters more than the title or position. The family business can start out as a job, but then it can grow into a career, and finally, with passion and purpose, into a calling.

“A lot of people assume that … they need to … find their calling,” says Wrzesniewski, and become anxious because they believe their calling to be “a magical entity that exists in the world, waiting to be discovered.”

We can’t just lie back and wait for our calling to fall on our laps. We need to develop and deepen our interests.

“Whether janitor or CEO … continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.”

“Grit” by Angela Duckworth is available in National Bookstore.

(To be concluded next week)

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center.  Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail [email protected]). E-mail the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: adults, Business, economy, Gallup, News, survey, US, work
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