Grit Without Passion is Just Drudgery

By Yvonne Milosevic

Got grit? This buzzword has grabbed a lot of headlines lately. But stories of perseverance have captured our collective imagination since, well, forever. We love rooting for those who overcome obstacles through hard work and determination. Just last year, tennis superstar Serena Williams, who faced a life-threatening medical crisis after giving birth to her daughter in 2017, fought her way back to the Wimbledon finals in what Time magazine called, “…one of the most spectacular displays of will, skill and grit in the history of the game.”

What’s been missing in the grit analysis?

But, is having grit alone enough to achieve success in life? Until now, researchers hadn’t found consistent proof that grittier people are more likely to succeed. Critics began calling the concept of grit an “overhyped mirage.” That should change with a new study by Columbia Business School and Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

Earlier analyses of grit fell short, say these researchers, because they primarily focused on perseverance and undervalued the key ingredient of passion. Sure, persistence can lead to achievement, but it won’t necessarily lead to happiness. As the researchers note, perseverance without that clear sense of direction that passion provides does not propel people forward.


“We were not surprised to find that dogged dedication to an objective – without a true passion for the goal – is mere drudgery,” says Columbia Professor Adam Galinsky. “But until now, research on grit failed to factor in the propulsive force that animated grit’s perseverance. By properly incorporating passion into the grit equation, we now have evidence that people who are passionate for their goal and persevere towards it will reach higher heights.”

How to up your own grit factor

Finding your passion can be the most challenging element of building up grit. After all, forging ahead on tasks that fill you with dread may technically qualify you as persistent, but won’t make you gritty. Dr. Angela Duckworth, author of the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, acknowledges that it isn’t always easy to find your passion.

In a recent interview published in Psychology Today, Duckworth explains, “It would seem on the face of things that perseverance would be the harder part of grit to master, but my recent experience and conversations with millennials as well as younger generations and middle-aged professionals is that figuring out something that you love is harder.”

Her advice? Stop ruminating and start doing. Fan that initial spark through action.  “If you think you might want to be a doctor, start volunteering in a hospital. If you think you might want to be a writer, start writing,” Duckworth says. “Sampling is better than specialization, especially early on.”

Forget what others expect from you and focus on finding the things that actually ignite your interest. Do you feel a pull toward certain projects at work or beyond? What activities cause you to focus so intently that you forget about everything else around you?  Once you identify your passions, tap into them and relentlessly pursue the life and career goals you’ve deemed worthy of your time and energy. This powerful combination will allow you to maximize the true potential for success that defines grit today.