Are You Gritty Enough to Become Financially Independent?

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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One of my favourite things about retiring early is having the time and energy to read more books. And one of the books that made an impression on me recently is called “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.

The title was intriguing enough, but as soon I saw this in the summary I was hooked:

Angela Duckworth shows how grit – the combination of passion and perseverance – distinguishes high achievers, and why talent isn’t as important as most people think.

If you’ve been a long time reader of this blog (thank you, you rock!), you know that I don’t believe our brains are fixed at birth and there’s a lot we can change about our minds over time. The fact that I hated coding in high school but still ended up developing enough coding skills to get through the 5-year gruelling engineering program at Waterloo and working in the industry for 9 years proves this. To me the excuse of “my brain isn’t wired that way” just doesn’t cut it.

This is because I’m a huge proponent of the “growth mindset” rather than the “fixed mindset”– two concepts that Angela introduces in her book.

Growth Mindset

“I can train myself to be smarter by developing new skills ”

Fixed Mindset

“My brain is wired a certain way and I can’t change it.”

 

Now that’s not to say that I think we are all born with the exact same levels of intelligence. Some people do learn faster than others. Some have more of an affinity for numbers, others for art. But that doesn’t mean a “numbers person” can’t learn art and the “art person” can’t learn math. You may have some neural pathways that help you excel in certain areas better than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop new pathways to learn and improve your weaknesses. If the brain is fixed, how it is possible that people who’ve gone through stroke and lost enough brain capacity to do basic things like talk and read can completely recover and regrow those lost neural pathways?

The growth mindset allows you to overcome obstacles because you believe you can improve, no matter what’s happened in the past. The fixed mind set believes that when you fail at something, it’s because you simply don’t have the aptitude to get past the obstacles, and that can never be changed, so why bother trying?

But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s learned helplessness.

Now, we are not all completely to blame for having either mind set. Part of the reason why we believe whether we CAN or CAN’T do something has largely to do with the environment we grew up in.

And most of the time, that environment has to do with our upbringing, and how our parents raised us.

Which leads me to Angela’s next point, how parenting styles affect the way we think.

She introduces four types of parenting styles:

1) Permissive
2) Neglectful
3) Authoritarian
4) Wise

Source: Grit by Angela Duckworth

Each of these parenting styles reflects how demanding and supportive the parent is.

 

Permissive parents

Undemanding and Supportive. Sounds great right? Well, not exactly. Because the parents never have any expectations for the child, even though they give them lots of encouragement and hugs, the child never improves their skills because they don’t know what’s expected of them. When participation is enough to win a medal, it dilutes the value of hard work and self-improvement. This causes the child to actually be unhappy because they are bored and constantly being praised makes it meaningless over time.

 

Neglectful parents

Undemanding and Unsupportive. Not only do they not push their kids to a higher standard, they dismiss their kid’s problems, hardly ever give praise, and don’t respect their kid’s privacy or points of view.

 

Authoritarian parents

Demanding and Unsupportive. They set high standards for their kids but are absolutely tyrants when it comes to lack of support. They don’t want to hear about any problems, they don’t like giving praise and they definitely don’t want to give their kids any freedom to make any decisions. Only their decisions are correct and not to be questioned.

 

Wise parents

Demanding and Supportive. They set high standards for their kids but know when to let the kid take the reign. They give praise but only when the child has shown an effort to improve. They listen to any problems their kids have and also give them the freedom to make decisions.

 

As it turns out, after studying these types of parenting for a decade and running experiments, Angela found that children of neglectful parents performed the worst, with double the probability of committing crimes as their wise-parented peers. Indulgent parenting produced kids only slightly better than neglectful parenting. Authoritarian was slightly better than indulgent, but compared to wise parenting produced kids with more antisocial behaviour and higher rates of depression.

Now, as much fun as it is to blame our parents for our short-comings, upbringing is only one aspect of what causes us to have a fix or growth mind set, and that too, can be changed.

As the story in Angela’s book points out, a kid she knew named Cody who had negligent parents, never felt like he could amount to much, decided to just apply to colleges after high school and take the first one that accepted him. However, after talking to his older brother, who asked him why he wasn’t applying to an Ivy League school, Cody said he thought he wasn’t good enough to get in. But when his brother kept asking why, saying he’d always thought Cody would get into an Ivy League school, this happened:

“That’s when a switch flipped in my head,” Cody said. “I went from ‘Why bother?’ to ‘Why not?’ I knew I might not get into a really good college, but I figured, if I try, I have a chance. If I never try, then I have no chance at all.”

Sometimes we just need someone else to have high expectations for us in order for us to meet them.

“Why bother” becomes “Why not”.

Which bring me to what is, in my opinion, the most crucial chapter of the book—
talking about how you need to “surround yourself with gritty people.” And not just gritty people, but supportive gritty people who push you to meet their high expectations of you. Because they have the unwavering belief that you will meet that bar, in an effort to not let them down, you end up meeting that high bar.

Nowhere did I see more truth in this than at Chautauqua.

One attendee came with a big chunk of debt and had basically given up on figuring out a life plan. But after going through their finances, and giving them multiple options to get back on track, they realized it wasn’t as bleak as they thought. When we checked-in with them a few months later, they actually managed to save money for the first time ever!

Another attendee came with scary stress-related rashes on their arms. They were initially put off by the cost, but decided to come anyway because they had read a life-changing book about “investing in yourself” and believed the money would be well spent. The shocking thing is that after going through their finances, there were actually tax efficiencies and other strategies we discovered that made their goal way more achievable than they initially thought. After they left, this person actually said “Chautauqua helped me figure out my life!” High praise for just 1 week. It took me a whole 9 years to do that! I checked-in recently to found that this attendee had increase their savings rate so much, the extra savings easily made up for the Chautauqua cost in just a matter of months. Also, the stress-rashes? Gone.

Another attendee felt like they were swimming up stream their entire life. Having unsupportive family members, they were never supported in anything that they did. They said the amount of support they received and the energy of being with so many gritty people made their entire year! When I checked-in with this attendee recently, not only had they gotten a promotion, paid off their student loans, picked up 2 challenging new skills, they set a stretch goal for themselves to increase their salary to 6-figures! I know they’re going to get there, because that’s just the type of person they are now.

And finally, the youngest attendee we ever had—only 17 years old!—just started their own business selling customized dolls after Chautauqua. And not only that, they could rattle off all sorts of 401k facts that even my most seasoned co-workers would be scratching their heads about.

After reading “Grit” I started to realize what made all these people exceptional:

They have a “Growth Mindset”.

That’s one of the main reasons why they came to Chautauqua. They wanted to learn and grow their skills because they believe their brains aren’t fixed. They wanted to surround themselves with other gritty people, and in turn these gritty people became their cheerleaders, and they ended up meeting these high bars set for them by continuing to improve, long after the Chautauqua’s were over.

That’s why we continue to see results, as the Chautauquans progress over time. They continue to reap rewards from being around other gritty people and exercising their growth mindset.

And don’t get me wrong. Grit isn’t just blind optimism. It’s the belief that with hard work, perseverance over a long time, and actual ACTIONABLE tasks, you will be able to achieve what you want to achieve. And not only that, having other gritty people around consistently to energize you, and setting a high bar set for you, is the key to success. That’s why regardless of your upbringing, your will continue to excel—neglectful or permissive parents be damned.

So what does all this have to do with becoming Financially Independent? Well, reading this book made me realize the puzzle pieces to achieving FI:

  1. Work on it for the long haul
  2. Don’t give up when things get tough
  3. Have a growth mindset—even if you’re not a math person, not gritty (yet), don’t get investing, as long as you think you can get better at all these things over time, you will. Go from “why bother to “why not?”
  4. Surround yourself with gritty people
  5. Rise up to meet the high bar they set for you

Those are the ingredients you need to become FI. Use grit to your advantage.

So let’s find out. How gritty are you?

Take the Quiz

Post your results here:

What's Your Grit Score?

NOTE: If you’re interested in checking out this “Grit” book, you can click here to buy it

(Disclaimer: this is an affiliate link so I’ll get a small referral fee if you buy the book. But if you’d rather borrow it from the library, no hard feelings.).



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55 thoughts on “Are You Gritty Enough to Become Financially Independent?”

    1. From what other parents have told me, it’s definitely not easy! So big round of applause for all that you do. If we ever become parents, we would strive to become wise parents but it’ll be a challenge for sure.

    1. Determination is definite a big part of it. The other part is being surrounded by other gritty people and learning to push through obstacles.

  1. Wow. Powerful stuff. Very motivational. Determination to constantly improve yourself and not give up does go a long way in determining your success in life. Obtaining new knowledge and skills can be very satisfying and builds confidence. Success, financial or otherwise, often follows.

    1. Yup. That’s why it’s good to push yourself to have the “growth mindset” rather than the fixed mindset. If you think you can improve you’ll actually be more willing to try.

  2. Even grit is something a person can learn. I’m a gritty person, but it was definitely something I had to learn. I wasn’t born that way.

    Too many people come home from work, watch TV, and go to bed only to do it all again the next day. They never grow, never read a book, and never struggle to become something more than they already are.

    It’s a damn shame. Cheers for having a ton of grit FIRECracker!

    1. I’m with you on that one, Mr. Tako! I don’t think any of us are born gritty, but we can become grittier over time. Just need the right motivation and be surrounded with the right people to motivate us.

  3. Wow – I never thought this would turn into parenting tips, but I love it! We really try and live in that upper-right quadrant where we provide support but also demand a lot; of course, like many other parents we fail frequently and continually course-correct.

    Just yesterday I was helping my 7 yr old develop better emotional intelligence when things didn’t go his way in the Stratego game we were playing. (“Don’t get upset, but instead think about what you can do to make the situation better.”) Play-based learning goes a long way 🙂

    I also love the point about surrounding yourself with gritty people. Put another way, surround yourself with people who will encourage and mentor you, who you can look up to, and who are better than you in areas that you want to learn more about. (Which, by the way, your blog does a great job of, IMO.)

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Chris!

      I’m so in awe of parents like you who have the patience to support and encourage their kids, day in and day out. Sure, sometimes you fail and need to course-correct but the best parents are the ones who improve over time. Being a parent in of itself develops grit!

    1. Awesome! Greece is amazing–one of our favourite European countries. Hope to see you at Chautauqua this year 🙂

      Very cool that you’re a mathie learning art! I hear lots of artist say how challenging it is to learn math, but it goes the other way for math people too. Kudos for pushing yourself outside your comfort zone!

  4. I’m a logical IT background person who learned to draw and paint! Grit is so true!

    Also important, trusting that you’ll figure it out along the way when you don’t think you can do it or don’t know where to start.

    1. YAY! It’s Amanda! 😉

      Yeah, IT has a way of sucking all the creativity out of you so trusting yourself is a big part of it.

  5. Not kidding. I just requested this book from the library and then opened my email and saw this post. Coincidence can gives me the shivers sometimes lol. I’ll take it to mean I’m still on the right track 🙂

  6. we had a school x country team growing up in the sticks (graduated about 60 students per year). we were terrible at first as it was a new team coached by an excellent wrestling coach. that’s correct, he didn’t know much about running but it seemed like a fun sport for a tough guy to coach. by year two we were beating some people, reading articles in runner’s world on the training we should be doing. long story short, we took it upon ourselves to organize and train all summer each year and eventually won this little league. we were like the bad new f’ing bears of running. it was great to do it in a home-made fashion as real underdogs. it reminds me of the adult idea of being self made that makes me want to be around other self made types who cooked up their lives with chicken wire and duct tape on the way to success.

    1. That’s a great inspirational story, Freddy! Thanks for sharing. I think this is why we love cheering for the underdogs in movies like “The Bad News Bears”. It’s much more satisfying when the team started out bad but through grit and the “growth mindset” improved themselves rather than were just handed that talent as birth. Congrats to you and your team!

  7. So I totally have this book in my audible account and was supposed to listen to it during our long flight to Cambodia the other week. Ended up sleeping pretty much the whole 14 hours and didn’t get around to it. Your post has now lite a fire for me and proves that I need to get to it.

    1. Yeah, my intention is always to listen to audiobooks on planes, but I frequently end up falling a sleep too–especially if the flight is 15 hours. But this book is definitely worth a read!

      Did you enjoy Cambodia?

      1. At least I know that I am not the only one. It’s great that I am able to sleep on planes, but I didn’t even make a dent in the laundry list of things I thought I would accomplish.

        Cambodia was… I am struggling to find a good word to describe it, because nothing quite fits. From a current tourist (excluding the history part) stand point, it’s great. Great food, super nice people and the sites are exquisite! We loved it! But learning about the history (we went to S-21 and the Killing Fields in Phenom Penh) and hearing stories from people that lived through it was extremely rough. We worked with so many people that lived through the Khmer Rouge, who lost family members and still deal with physical and mental pain and suffering to this day, it really began to take a toll on me. I know you understand since you guys went to the same places, I was brought to tears so many times on that trip. So while Cambodia today is awesome, it is hard to forget the horrendous past, especially since it really wasn’t all that long ago.

  8. I have enjoyed reading Angela’s Grit tremendously. It helped me understand and reinforce my belief in hard work and perserverance.
    Having been raised by a combination of a neglectful father and a somewhat authoriative mother – both of them Asians – at first that frustrated me enough not to dare dream of achieving what I have achieved so far, but constantly showing my passion and hard work to my parents over a long period of time convined them to embrace their daughter and finally they themselves became more supportive as I reached adulthood and now they cannot be more supportive of me. So I do believe it’s not only possible to change your mindset but also your loved ones’ as well through grit.

    1. I love your story! It just goes to prove that even support from parents can be changed over time. That’s promising and I’m super happy for you!

  9. I have not read ‘Grit’. The concepts of fixed and growth mindsets was already introduced by Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”. Not sure what’s new or different in the book ‘Grit’

    1. I haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book, so I can’t speak to a detailed comparison, but from looking at the table of contents, it looks like Carol’s book is more of a deep dive into the theory behind it whereas Angela’s book is more of a practical life hack guide with some scientific research backing it. One is more textbook-based, the other is more story-based. They’re both good, just depends on what you’re into.

  10. Passion and perseverance – I think that one can lead to the other. If you are passionate about something you tend to persevere with it. If you persevere long enough sometimes that can lead you to have passion for the task at hand.

    I love the idea of surrounding yourself with gritty people. Interacting with people who are supportive and high achieving is a great way to set and achieve lofty goals for yourself also.

    1. Passion definitely helps and that’s one of the special ingredients that adds to grit. That being said, passion does wane over time–especially if you run into obstacles. If the person has passion AND and can push through when things get hard, it’s a winning formula. Surrounding yourself with gritty people definitely helps to sustain the passion and push through the hard parts 🙂

  11. With few exceptions, no one is born with mastery in their field of interest. Some innate skills help, but the masters in anything have trained or been mentored somehow.

    Anything can be done and learned! I think this is very freeing since nothing can ever hold you back…. other than yourself.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. You’re welcome, LD! Glad it was helpful.

      Having the mindset that anything can be learned makes it a self full-filling prophecy. We don’t have all have to be world-class experts, but we can all improve.

  12. I’ve heard about Grit on Freakonomics and have been meaning to check it out. And now that I know that there’s a section in there on parenting, I really have to. 🙂 After I finish “What Happened”, Duckworth’s book is the next one I’m getting from the library.

    I think she went after the McArthur Genius Grant with a colleague recently, with a really audacious plan. If you haven’t heard this Freakonomics episode, I think you’d really dig it:

    http://freakonomics.com/podcast/solving-one-problem-solve-others/

  13. I don’t like when people diminsh talent, there is a lot of jealousy in that.
    That jealousy begin at school when they refuse to put talented kids into advanced program.
    When they are mixed with normal standard to tje lowest denominator they don’t learn what they should. They don’t go as far as they could. They don’t learn to work and push and sweat.
    We teach them to be lazy because of a jealous society.
    What happens when talented kids are pushed? Elon Musk, Mozart, Einstein, I mean the best from the best. Everybody benefit from it.
    Talent multiplied by effort has no limit.
    There will always be someone better than us at a specific competence, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go for it anyway. Own what you do and what you deserve.
    Always do your best.

    1. “There will always be someone better than us at a specific competence, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go for it anyway.”

      Exactly.

      Talent + zero effort yields poor results. For every one of those so-called “talented” people there are tons more who didn’t start up talented–and even some that started with learning disabilities–who have since excelled way past their “talented” peers. If you read “Grit” you’ll see the Charles Darwin example that demonstrates this.

  14. Loved it! And so true! My mum was permissive and my dad neglectful, but I was lucky and turned out ok anyway 😉

    But I couldn’t agree more about surrounding yourself with people that will push you to always get better results. I believe there are no limits to what anyone can do!

    1. Kudos for turning out awesome! Even if you didn’t have the best environment to grow up in, there are other gritty people you can surround yourself with and excel despite all that. Well done!

  15. This book changed my life. Seriously.

    My whole life, I was told what it would take to be “successful.” And honestly, I wasn’t satisfied with what I was being told. Some people said to work toward a specific lucrative career. Other people said to follow passion. Some people said to get advanced degrees.

    I never felt like I actually knew what it takes until I started doing a lot of reading on the topic.

    This book taught me that passion + perseverance is the real winning combo.

    (Another book that totally changed my perspective is “The Happiness Advantage” – highly recommend!)

    1. Wow, that’s high praise! I like how she approaches grit as passion + perseverance too. No point in persevering toward something, just for the hell of it, with no purpose.

  16. TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis is a novel well worth reading:

    First line: “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.”

    Last Line: “This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross’s blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground.”

      1. There’s no Chautauqua in Ecuador this year. The Greek one in Oct is the only Chautauqua.

        When you say Feb 2018, maybe you’re thinking of the Chautauqua reunion I mentioned? That’s not the Ecuador Chautauqua, it’s a reunion of the people who went to Chautauqua UK last year in August.

  17. Great post. I just listed to the ChooseFI podcast about Greece. That will be an amazing experience for those who attend. Grit can carry a person a long way. Never give up.

  18. I’ve been preaching the praises of “Grit” for just over a year now. The book is awesome. I still haven’t written a complete review of it anywhere, but that’s an oversight. You’re absolutely right that the lessons here are great for folks pursuing FI — or any other financial goals.

  19. I read that book a while back. Grit is a great trait, but really difficult to instill. Our kid is not gritty at all. I’ve been trying to build up his grit, but it’s hard. It’s a lifelong process.

    You’re right about the growth mindset, though. You could get better at almost anything.

  20. Damn Firecracker, that was a dope post! I just listened to you on the ChooseFI podcast regarding the Chautauqua during my bike ride home from work, and I’m kinda bummed that I didn’t sign up for Greece. That said, we’ll get our fix at Camp Mustache Seattle this year!

    I’m especially intrigued by the parenting quadrant – very interesting! Reminds me that I need to push my boys (lovingly, of course) to keep getting better and not accept ‘normal’. My oldest is in the ‘highly capable’ program at school, but can fold like a lawn chair when presented a challenge. Instilling grit in him is something that will be an absolute multiplier for his capability. Added this book to my holds list at the library. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Eric! Hope to see you at Chautauqua next year!

      Yeah, the parenting angle was what I found to be the one of the most intriguing concepts in this book. Especially the way she breaks it down from a psychological aspect. Angela also mentioned that she found her daughter folding too easily from challenges so she started the “One Hard Thing” rule in her household. I think you’ll really enjoy reading about it!

  21. Glad my parents were WISE! I can remember thinking, how come they never asked to see my homework. At some point, I realized that they set the expectation that it would be done and done to the best of my ability. They also knew that I would meet this expectation. Sometimes I thought they were just too busy to care but eventually I figured out they trusted me to get it done. As for GRIT – nice article.

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