This Is What It Means to Have ‘Grit’

According to most Silicon Valley investors, if there’s one trait that is absolutely crucial to success in Silicon Valley, it’s grit. As a concept, “having grit” is vague. It’s a quality that describes a range of innate characteristics that allow entrepreneurs to succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. Trying to define the term is difficult, and when people try, they don’t always get it right.

Grit refers to a key collection of important habits that allow people to overcome the pressure, time away from home, and undeniable difficulty that accompanies the growth of a good business. To truly understand what grit is and how one can embrace it, it’s important to break the concept down to its true ingredients. From there, entrepreneurs can learn how to improve themselves in the key areas that support this critical characteristic. Here are four characteristics of grit:

Ingredient #1: Passion

What it is: Passion is a strong emotion that goes beyond enthusiasm. When you’re a gritty entrepreneur, passion is the force that drives you. Passion is key to building a successful business because it’s the kind of motivation that cannot be taken away, unlike money, fame, or admiration.

How to develop it: The bad news is that passion isn’t really something you can force. If you want to become passionate, then you have to chase things that you’re actually passionate about.

Successful entrepreneurs find passion by asking themselves what they’re really interested in, what really matters to them, and what their strengths are. Passionate entrepreneurs are excited about their businesses and tend to believe that the product or service they offer can make a difference in the world in some way.

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Ingredient #2: Perseverance

What it is: Perseverance is being undaunted, intrepid, and uncompromising in pursuit of your entrepreneurial goals in spite of delay, difficulty, or setbacks. Building your own business is not easy. It can take a serious mental and emotional toll on people over the long-term, but gritty entrepreneurs continue moving forward anyway.

How to develop it: Developing perseverance is all about mindset. To persevere, entrepreneurs need to be capable of honesty with themselves about how a business is progressing and when something needs to change. To persevere, entrepreneurs need to be able to let go of ideas that don’t work and go back to the drawing board to find a better way, rather than continuing to make the same mistakes that hold a company back from growth and success.

Perseverance is easier when entrepreneurs expect that they will encounter problems and rejection and understand that failure is a natural part of growing a business. It’s also easier to persevere when founders have a supportive community around them who understand the struggles entrepreneurs face. To develop perseverance, network with other entrepreneurs and be a support to them when they need it—they’re likely to do the same for you.

Ingredient #3: Optimism

What it is: Optimism is about more than just a positive attitude. This quality is critical to entrepreneurs’ faith in their ability to succeed. As mentioned above, entrepreneurs need to be prepared to persevere and expect to encounter problems. Optimism is the component of grit that allows founders to believe that they will make it through a setback, no matter how difficult it seems.

This gritty quality is also important for founders who are hoping to eventually secure investment for their startups. Many investors consider this kind of optimism in company founders to be as important to their decision as the product the startup is offering.

How to develop it: The great thing about optimism is that it can be learned. The first step is to recognize negative thinking patterns when they appear. Entrepreneurs can monitor their thinking patterns and look for the times that they focus on the negative outcomes of a situation rather than the positive.

In time, identifying negative thought patterns for what they are and choosing to think positively (even if they don’t feel positive at the time) can help entrepreneurs rewrite their brains for positivity. The power of positivity can lead entrepreneurs to feel more confident about their work and help create the kind of borderline irrational self-belief that being gritty requires.

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Ingredient #4: Pragmatism

What it is: Lastly, all gritty entrepreneurs need pragmatism. This quality will anchor them and keep founders from working toward an unfulfilling, unrealistic ideal that no person can ever possibly attain. Pragmatic people recognize the importance of giving their all and do so. However, they also are realistic about what they are physically and mentally capable of at a given point in time.

This isn’t to say that gritty entrepreneurs don’t push themselves. They give their businesses their all and will go farther than any other kind of founder. But being pragmatic means that they strive for progress over perfection, because perfection is an unattainable ideal that can be extremely demotivating and even counterproductive.

How to develop it: To develop pragmatism, entrepreneurs who are perfectionists need to rethink their definition of “excellence.” Founders need to understand that excellence is more about attitude than accomplishment. The pursuit of excellence has ample room for failure, as long as the entrepreneur uses setbacks as lessons.

By adopting this line of thought, entrepreneurs can learn to be more pragmatic and realistic about their business development strategies, their mental and emotional wellbeing. This enables them to make the best decisions for the future of the company, rather than what’s best for their egos.

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