What’s makes up your to-do list and, more importantly, why?

Do you have a list of things that need to get done every day?

Does the list seem to be growing each day because you never get to all the things?

Do you sometimes wonder why you’re even doing some of these tasks?

Angela Duckworth might have the solution in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

In her book, she shares her journey into the curiosity of what makes people keep chasing a dream until they reach success.  She looks at West Point cadets who commit to a grueling acceptance program as well as other successful entrepreneurs.  She reduces her work into a magical mix of two common factors that you probably have already guessed from the title of the book:  Passion and Perseverance. 

  • Passion.  Whatever you want to chase, it has to hold heart and meaning to you.  It must be more than fame or money or even accomplishment.  You simply love it for the sheer sake of doing it.
  • Perseverance.  You love it enough to keep going no matter how many times you are told no or experience failure.  You believe, even if no one else does, in the beauty of your dreams.

Duckworth suggests coming up with 1-2 things in your life that you are truly passionate about.  These are not your New Year’s resolutions or something on your 1 or 5-year plan.  These are big, life-long goals you want to achieve.  When you are 80 years old you can say, “I did that.  It took my whole life, but I accomplished that.”

These goals might be specific such as “I successfully led a company to record profits year after year.”  Maybe it is a bit vague such as the goal of the Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carrol, “ Do things better than they have ever been done before.”  You might be able to name it as a specific goal or a life philosophy.  However, you define it, it’s something you are passionate about and willing to chase.

Once you have taken the time and found the courage to name these 1-2 big life goals, take a look at your to-do list.  Which tasks ultimately serve your life goals?  And which ones are you simply doing because you are trying to meet the expectations of someone else?

It is easy to get caught up in trying to please others.  And working on your goals may align with what makes other people happy.  But if you find you are doing things only for others and not moving towards your own goals, you might want to reconsider why certain items are on your list.  And if you find they do not serve these goals, are you willing to not do them?

A bit scary right?  Maybe even terrifying?  To just say no to doing something you perhaps feel is a responsibility.

Duckworth’s concept gives you permission to chase your dreams and at the same time let go of anything not serving those dreams.  It gives you permission to stop doing things that really do not matter in life and focus your energy on what matters most to you.

This is playing for the long haul.  This is less about setting and achieving short-term goals.  This is about building a life around your passions and having the courage to live into them.

One section of the book that is most helpful is how to grow your grityour ability to find your passion and then stick to it.

Duckworth gives two helpful hints on how to be grittier:

  • Begin by growing your grit “from the inside out.”  This is being aware of what holds heart and meaning to you.  This is being curious and exploring your passions.  It takes courage to follow your own path.  It can be tempting to follow a crowd or even one other person rather than chase your own dream.  She encourages you to get curious about what you love.
  • Second, Duckworth suggests growing your grit “from the outside in.” Once you discover a thread of what might be your passion, find as many experts and resources as possible, to learn more.  Pay attention.  Do you find yourself getting increasingly excited or are you losing heart?  Others can help us further refine our passions or let us know when it is time to search for a new one.

This dream you are chasing will not happen overnight.  It will not be easy.  Some will not understand.  Others will hold a key to understanding your passion from a new angle. If you need a bit of encouragement to keep going, try reading Grit.

What might happen if you combined your passion with a healthy dose of perseverance and eliminated a few things off your to-do list?

You can check out Duckworth’s Ted Talk on Grit here: