At the behest of friend, podcast co-host, and frequent thought-spam recipient Mike Leone, I am two-thirds of the way through Range: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World. The book by David Epstein focuses on the benefits of being “well-rounded” as opposed to hyper-specialized.
That’s admittedly an oversimplification of the book’s breadth and the value within. As someone with fleeting thoughts with no compass, I’ve always struggled with finding an area to “focus.” In an hour span my attention can flicker from business ideas and marketing, to musicals, to countries I want to go, sports bets I want to place, and food I want to try.
It all interests me. I have a wide range of thoughts and interests, growing increasingly wider by the day.
Yet, those sporadic interests have seemingly always kept me from producing anything “niche.” Creating an audience, building a brand – it should have some sort of product-market fit, right?
Who the hell wants to read potentially random thoughts across a variety of subjects?
I’ll wait to find an answer, stealing from the momentum of Range to keep me moving forward and thinking about a few important topics – one which I’ll explore below.
When I think of grit, I think of someone pushing themselves beyond reasonable conditions. An individual vowing to accomplish something they’ve dreamed of against all odds.
I don’t think I have grit.
By psychologist Angela Duckworth’s definition, grit is passion and perseverance for long term goals. Duckworth continues, noting grit is maybe better explained by what it is not. It is not talent, it is not luck, it is how intensely you want something in a moment.
In Range, Epstein provides the likely little known biographical view of the journey of Vincent Van Gogh, who was many things before becoming a renown painter before his death.
“Vincent was convinced that if he outworked everyone around him, he would succeed.”
It seems clear that from this statement Van Gogh must have held some gritty underpinnings.
Duckworth’s heavily referenced by Epstein in the section, seems to be a foremost expert on Grit. Her “Grit Scale” was built to help her study grit more scientifically, asking questions about one’s ability to stick to a project and hold interests from year to year.
Biographers assess that Van Gogh may have scored in the 40th percentile. Buoyed by intense bouts of hard work, but dragged down by his inability to stick with goals and projects.
How do I compare?
I scored a 1.80, higher than about 10% of American adults!
I am not gritty.
Much like Van Gogh (ha, how about that comparison), I struggle with fleeting thoughts and the inability to focus on one project – quickly abandoning it for another. I have been seemingly unable to find a singular purpose or interest, often darting for something else that grabs my mind, like a dog noticing a squirrel.
From the Grit Scale, I answered “Very Much Like Me” to all of the following:
1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
3. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.
5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.
7. My interests change from year to year.
9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
Should I be concerned about this? Is it ok to lack grit? Or is my grit just dormant, awaiting my Van Gogh like “creative eruption.”
I’m holding out hope that I haven’t found my match. From Epstein, “match quality” is a term economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are – their abilities and proclivities.”
For Van Gogh and others, it seems it’s all about finding this fit.
Above I referenced a short quote from Range regarding Van Gogh’s work ethic.
I’ll use it again.
“At every job he had, Vincent was convinced that if he outworked everyone around him, he would succeed. But then he would fail.”
I initially left out that last part about failing.
Epstein’s musings and Van Gogh’s story have me feeling a little bit better about what is often characterized as laziness or a lack of ambition.
I’ll leave you with this, a hasty spin on a famous “-it” rhyme…
If it ain’t the fit, what good’s the grit.