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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.
“I can train myself to be smarter by developing new skills ”
“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:
Each of these parenting styles reflects how demanding and supportive the parent is.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Work on it for the long haul
- Don’t give up when things get tough
- 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?”
- Surround yourself with gritty people
- 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?
Post your results here:
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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