In high school I sat near a lot of really smart kids. I liked to think I was among that group, but my transcript said otherwise. At graduation their robes were decorated with colorful accolades. Mine was black. Plain black.
College was the same story. I shared a lab with some brilliant people. But while they created brilliant new things, I struggled to understand the examples in the text book.
Years later I spent a couple years applying to some of the best business graduate programs in the nation. It didn’t work out.
It seemed the world was trying to tell me something. I’m not cut out for greatness. I’m not ‘Exec-level’ material. My dreams of running a great company weren’t meant to be I guess. I’m destined to work for a great company, not create one.
Sucks doesn’t it?
As a society we’re obsessed with academia. Parents push their teenagers to make the best grades, get into the best school, graduate with the highest honors, all so they can become a huge success. Kids are shuttled to after school programs for enrichment, and off to service activities to beef up their college applications.
It’s no wonder that by the time we leave college we tend to identify with our GPA. Our first employers ask for it as if it somehow proves we’ve got what it takes to succeed in the real world.
But what if none of that school stuff really mattered? What if I told you that the biggest indicator of future success had nothing at all to do with your GPA?
The Science of Success
In the late ‘60s Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel performed a now-iconic experiment called the Marshmallow Test. The test was designed to measure four year olds ability to display “delayed gratification.”
Not surprisingly, the children that were able to exhibit “delayed gratification” were the most successful as adults. Perhaps no surprises there.
And yet self-control isn’t the whole story.
Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth picked up where Mischel left off looking for which qualities most accurately predict outstanding achievement. Duckworth concurred that self-control is an excellent predictor of future success, but it’s not the most important one.
Duckworth isolated two qualities she thought would be a better predictor of outstanding achievement:
- The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.”
- The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.
People who accomplished great things, Duckworth noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.
So what does that mean for us?
It means our GPAs aren’t an indication of how far we can go. Whatever we did or did not achieve in school doesn’t mean squat about our futures.
It means to succeed we only need two things:
- Passion for whatever we’re doing – our mission.
- Tenacity. Get it done no matter the cost.
We could further boil that down to one extremely important indicator: Passion.
Your passion for your mission is what fuels your tenacity. It gives you the juice you need to stay up late researching. It gives you the drive you need to search for solutions to tough problems. Without passion, tenacity is a tall order.
So before you write off outstanding achievement as something you weren’t destined for, ask yourself this:
What am I passionate about?
Whatever it is, connecting with it will unlock limitless potential for success. If you know what it is, start using it. If you don’t know. Start looking.
Here are a few resources I love to help with finding your passion:
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