What distinguishes an Olympic athlete from an average one? Apart from the rare physical freaks you see when the Olympics rolls by, most of these athletes are physically alike to the thousand others sitting at home admiring them. Therefore, what sets them apart and made them appear on television instead of behind it is simple. The mindset. To be precise, grit.
What exactly is grit? In simple words, it is the combination of passion and perseverance. Infusing their “why” and “how”, a gritty person will persist in the face of adversities to achieve goals they are deeply passionate about. Sounds easy? On paper, it certainly is. Ironically, the hardest traits to adopt are often the easiest to understand. Given that 90% of startups fail, just getting it right for founders is akin to qualifying for the Olympics! Therefore, despite their physical differences, successful entrepreneurs are remarkably similar to Olympians. They both have an abundance of grit.
Grit is important because it is a driver of achievement and success, independent of and beyond what talent and intelligence can contribute. While having a high IQ is great, to truly do well and thrive, we need the ability to persevere. Without grit, talent may be nothing more than unfulfilled potential. It is only with effort that talent becomes a skill that leads to success. Most importantly, grit cannot be taught in schools. We need to venture out of the sheltered environment of the education system to truly face the curved balls and “lemons” life will throw at us. Only when these obstacles present themselves, will we truly know if we have grit within us.
Just like Olympians, obstacles and failures are part and parcel of an entrepreneurs’ journey to success. The belief that successful startups are overnight successes cannot be further from the truth. In fact, such a thought would be borderline disrespectful as it discredits the numerous challenges a founder must overcome to ensure the survival of his company. From rejections from investors to dealing with scepticism of others that the idea and product will fail, it does indeed take a huge dose of courage and belief to succeed in the startup world.
Going through a crisis is perhaps the most demanding, yet effective, test for startups. Faced with countless challenges and uncertainties, successfully navigating through it requires pure grit. It is only difficult times where we truly find out how strong our passion is. Therefore, entrepreneurs need to complement their passion with perseverance to truly succeed in the long-term. Furthermore, the ability to weather consecutive storms proves the strength of not only the business model of the startup, but its employees too. Overcoming these hurdles would surely instil a strong sense of confidence in both customers and investors alike.
How exactly can you build grit? While there is no textbook answer to that million-dollar question, here are some tips I have.
- View adversities as learning opportunities. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and embrace change as avenues to learn something new to improve yourself.
- Know your “why”. Ultimately, what truly fuels perseverance is the reason for completing the task. No one knows your true purpose better than yourself. Therefore, take some quiet time out to deeply think about your “why”. In difficult times, it would be your purpose that tides you through the storms.
- Be optimistic. Crucial in challenging times, strive to adopt a positive view of the state of things and always contextualise them. Does it seem so negative in the grand scheme of things? Look for the bigger picture.
Ultimately, given the VUCA world we live in today, the importance of grit cannot be understated. Especially in the cut-throat startup ecosystem where only the fittest survive, it is paramount that entrepreneurs need to have a certain “grittiness” within them. Apart from cultivating grit within themselves, founders should seek to integrate it within their startup’s culture to truly build an exceptional team to take them to the next level.
Tun Yong Yap
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