See that mahogany jewelry chest in the picture? Guess how long it took to finish? My current self would crank out a project like that pretty quickly, but my old self took almost 20 years to finish it! I started the piece when I was in high school Industrial Arts class and finally finished it in order to give it to our daughter several years ago. Was that a gritty performance on my part? Absolutely not! That just goes to show you that grit can be developed over time and that’s one of the main takeaways in Angela Duckworth’s great new book called Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I’ll share some of Duckworth’s terrific lessons on grit and how they apply to entrepreneurship and woodworking.
First of all, why did Duckworth write this book? In one of her early research projects as a psychologist, she was studying why cadets dropped out of their first year at West Point. West Point used a number called the Whole Candidate Score to decide who was accepted and who wasn’t, but success in a cadet’s first year didn’t correlate to the WCS. Both West Point and Duckworth wanted to know if there was a way to predict whether a cadet would succeed so West Point could admit the right people. Duckworth developed something called The Grit Scale which did show a correlation between higher grit scores and success at West Point. So what goes into being “gritty”, which is key to being a successful entrepreneur and woodworker?
Duckworth says one must have both passion and perseverance. Passion, however, is not just some overwhelming love for a pursuit, it needs to be cultivated, which is something the Minimalists also talk about. Many people say “follow your passion”, but sometimes someone may not know what their passion is. In that case, they should try several things and see what excites them. If they do know what their passion is, it needs to be cultivated and grown over time. For example, I have a passion for woodworking, but I’ve cultivated it over time. Did I always know how to do all of the techniques we’re currently using in Traughber Design? Of course not, they had to be learned and developed. In that course of learning and developing, we can learn to be even more passionate for our calling. An example is that I enjoy performing certain tasks more in the wood shop now that I am more proficient. I have more passion for doing that type of work.
Another element Duckworth discusses relative to passion is direction. She gives the example of someone working out every day and not improving their performance. It’s important to have goals and/or a coach. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to have coaches or mentors, especially ones that are doing work relevant to your field. I have woodworking mentors I turn to sometimes when I have a vexing problem and also mentors I turn to in learning the ins and outs of WordPress and blogging. Mentors can be invaluable and help establish those goals and make sure the entrepreneur follows through. We also need to align our work with our goals which we describe in more detail in the post about woodworking and yoga.
Another component of this entrepreneurial venture has been this blog which requires perseverance. I like to write, but in order to make the blog go, I need to write consistently. Remember, this is currently a part-time gig as we wrote about in the first blog post. One might think that with over 1 billion Facebook users on the planet, that a blog would instantly achieve critical mass and millions of page views. It doesn’t quite work that way. Google runs a sophisticated algorithm 600 times per year that decides what does and does not pop up in the search rankings. It is a real art and science to stay ahead of that algorithm, and most people don’t have that kind of time. An entrepreneurial blogger is better off just focusing on fresh and good content that adds value. If you listen to successful bloggers that have millions of page views, they are consistent in writing fresh posts. To summarize that point: write often and add value. For example, I’m finding there is a big spike in readership immediately after a fresh post and a gradually increasing trend line. The key is to write and post often. But it’s not just about posting often. It is about adding value. When I’m thinking of posts, I’m thinking “what woodworking tips or philosophies help my readers?”
Perseverance also relates to something called the pivot in entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is unlikely to hit upon a million dollar idea and may have to be prepared to pivot to another idea down the road if the first one doesn’t work out. For example, in woodworking I started out making some pieces on spec (or speculation) anticipating that they would sell. I also did pieces on commission. I found through trial and error that spec doesn’t work very well for our business and Traughber Design is focused almost exclusively on commission work now. We pivoted from spec work to commissions.
There is so much more to talk about regarding grit, entrepreneurship, and woodworking, but I’ll hand off to Duckworth at this point. I highly recommend reading her book and watching her TED talk which is available here.
Have a gritty day ; )