Thursday, November 03, 2005


Psychology Today has an interesting article this month about what makes a person successful. The summary of the article says: " We're primed to think that talent is the key to success. But what counts even more is a fusion of passion and perseverance. In a world of instant gratification, grit may yield the biggest payoff of all." They define grit as: "the determination to accomplish an ambitious, long-term goal despite the inevitable obstacles.-"

The article discusses these qualities considered important to success:

  • Talent
  • Ability
  • Ambition
  • Optimism
  • Focus
  • Persistence
  • Passion
  • Motivation
  • Ability to accept criticism

One thing the article doesn't discuss is what they used as a definition of success. However, their examples imply that success is measured by the person pursuing it. Achieving the goal they set out to reach equals being successful. And it's important that the goal be set by the person pursuing it. Grit is a quality they say comes from being passionate about the goal, and few people have that kind of passion for a externally-imposed goal. I've seen that in action with my kids wanting to do only the homework that interested them.

I've seen the theory proposed in this article work in the stories my writer friends tell me about how they went from unpublished to published writers. They wrote a novel. Took their rejections and kept writing more. They didn't stop writing and didn't stop sending out the work. They believed they would be published if they worked at it long enough and worked hard enough. The one piece of advice every pro writer gives is this: put your butt in the chair and write. And that's really what it comes down to in the end. No matter what else happens, you have to put your butt in the chair and write. Then believe in your work enough to send it out.

The beauty of what the article is saying is that you can build the qualities that bring the most success by practicing them. You can't build talent and ability, but they're the least important. Passion is something you can find by trying things until you discover it. Sometimes you have to do a lot of something to find what area you're passionate about. I love reading a lot of different things and I've written pieces in all of the genres I enjoy reading. But I realized they had one thing in common--all of them had some sort of crime. I had one of those aha! moments. I started focusing on the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. I became more consistent without really trying because I'd found my passion. Once I found that passion, developing persistence seemed easier. The passion became my motivation.

I think discovering your passion fuels optimism and ambition, too. Because when you're doing something you love, you expect to be successful at it. And you want a bigger measure of success than when you don't really care about what you're doing. You push yourself harder and challenge yourself more. You reach higher because it matters to you in a way other things don't. I think ambition is where being able to accept criticism comes in. If you're aiming high, you have to be the best at what you do. That means you need input from others because you don't see your work the way they do. By being able to accept and learn from criticism, you grow and get closer to your goal. But I think that along with accepting criticism, you have to develop a sense of when it's useful and when it isn't, so you don't waste time trying to please everyone or lose track of your own vision. Passion also fuels your focus. If you're passionate about something you focus your attention on it.

So, are you focusing your attention on your passion? If not, then the question is whether it's really your passion. I suppose the answer to that depends on what you're doing instead of pursuing your passion. I know that helping my husband find a job, which eats into my writing time, is both temporary and necessary. Spending some of my writing time that way doesn't mean I'm not passionate about writing. But if I were watching a lot of TV, playing a lot of video games, or doing other entertainment things and whining that I don't have time to write, I'd be questioning whether writing really is my passion.