Should Grit Appear Effortless?


If you’re gritty, should you let it show?

That was the essential question in The Atlantic‘s article this month, Is Grit Overrated?

In it, Jerry Useem applies Angela Duckworth‘s research on grit to our careers.

Grit, the persistent pursuit of a passion, is key to accomplishment. Yet most people would be happy not to know how hard you worked.

Useem cites research by Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London. It showed that people prefer perceived natural talents over those whose striving and hard work is more apparent.

Why? Here Duckworth has a best guess. It’s that “we don’t like strivers because they invite self-comparisons.” And we can often find ourselves lacking.

Or perhaps it’s because the effortless and frictionless experience is desirable in all areas of our lives. This is especially true in the customer experience with our favorite brands.

Think of the level of technology we interact with on a daily basis. The networks that carry our communications. The electric and computing technology that fuel our cars. The social media that connect us around the globe.

We want and expect an effortless experience. Every time.

In addition to the complexity of our lives that demands an effortless experience, history and human nature play roles. “Make your accomplishments appear effortless,” is one of The 48 Laws of Power that Robert Greene penned.

Greene cited the Japanese tea ceremony and the contributions of Sen no Rikyu in the 16th century. The art of the tea ceremony was heightened by its seeming effortlessness. Showing the effort behind the work ruined the effect.

Greene also drew from the Renaissance court writings of Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier in 1528. Castiglione advised members of the royal court to carry out their duties with “sprezzatura, the capacity to make the difficult seem easy.”

He went on to write, “practice in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”

In our world of social media, where people appear to live perfectly curated lives, this takes some reality checks on the back end.

When the actor Rob Lowe took his oldest son to college, he advised him beautifully when his son expressed doubts about his ability to succeed. Lowe describes this in a tear-jerking chapter of his book Love Life.

“Dad, what if it’s too hard for me here?” his son asked.  “None of the other kids look scared at all.”

The elder Lowe’s response is something we should remind ourselves of every day: “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

As you pursue a passion with perseverance and balance it with the appearance of effortlessness, remember this: It takes tremendous work behind the scenes to accomplish anything great.

Don’t ever give up. Keep your grit to yourself. And make sure your children understand the hard work that happens beneath the surface.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. After being a VP of Communications and Marketing in the Fortune 100, I founded The Carrelle Company to provide digital branding for people to grow their careers and business owners to grow their companies. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career or business and embrace your future through social media. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I’d love to hear from you!