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Corporate cubicles have the ability to suck the life out of some people. That was certainly true for me. Back at the beginning of my career, I had fulfilled my parents’ expectations by going to college and getting a good Wall Street job.
The problem was that I hated those gray walls covered in nubby fabric. I hated the commute. And I really disliked the work.
If I wanted to go through life every day and not be in complete misery, I knew I had to reinvent myself. So, I left my job in the cube and developed myself into a successful internet entrepreneur. I’ve been running my own show now for 12 years and I couldn’t be happier.
But making that transition took a huge amount of grit and determination. There were times I had only my will to keep me going when most people in my life thought I was a little bit crazy. So, for emotional support, I looked to examples of “gritty” people to keep me going. That’s why I was so moved by the passing of author, socialite and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, who died on June 19 this year.
Vanderbilt was a true example of grit, which, along with determination, is a core strength of entrepreneurs everywhere. In fact how “gritty” you are often determines if you will succeed or fail.
Angela Duckworth, a leading expert on grit, says that, “Grit is passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades.”
That’s why looking at examples of people who possess grit can help us dig into our own motivations and become more determined people ourselves.
Here are five lessons I learned from Vanderbilt herself about grit and determination.
Live life on your own terms.
In order to develop the ability to see projects through when the going gets tough — which is the basic definition of grit — it helps to be doing things that you want to do, and to live on your own terms. You have to have passion to develop the persistence that grit embodies.
Vanderbilt lived her life exactly as she wanted. Even though she was born into wealth and inherited a fortune, she was determined to make her own way and became a successful author, actor and designer — among other pursuits.
Forget about balance.
When you live life with passion, you often focus on one thing to the exclusion of others. That is often the cost of excellence. You have to figure out what’s important to you and do that really well.
Vanderbilt did this with almost every project she took on. What most people don’t know is that before she invented her famous Vanderbilt jeans, she spent years honing her ability as a designer. That’s how she came to have the idea to use “all this denim fabric stored away in Hong Kong.”
That break-out success followed years of hard work and years of a lack of “balance” — just as it does for most successful entrepreneurs. The success of Vanderbilt jeans had behind it years of hard work and a focus on a singular goal — just as success has for most successful entrepreneurs.
Learn how to receive criticism.
If you’re out there making new things happen in business, you are going to face a lot of doubters and criticism. You are going to have to learn how to take away the part that’s good, use it and not let the rest deter you.
Though an heiress, Vanderbilt was the subject of intense media scrutiny for her entire life. She learned early on how to not let it bother her and to proceed with her life anyway.
Her son, (CNN anchor) Anderson Cooper, said in a statement to that network: “As a teenager, she tried to avoid the spotlight, but reporters and cameramen followed her everywhere. She was determined to make something of her life, determined to make a name for herself, and find the love she so desperately needed.”
Enjoy a challenge.
Life as an entrepreneur is rarely the easiest path, and staying determined usually means that you need to enjoy whatever challenges your life and business throws at you. Enjoying the experience of overcoming obstacles will help you overcome them.
Although Vanderbilt was born into wealth, she believed in the value of hard work and motivation and she enjoyed a challenge and particularly the initiative that a challenge took to overcome. In keeping with this value she said she wouldn’t leave her children much money. Her son Carter Cooper clearly appreciated how that move could reduce someone’s motivation. He once called inherited money an "initiative sucker.” (In fact, in the end, Vanderbilt left most of her fortune to her son Anderson.)
Most people who start on a path where they are their own bosses are wildly optimistic, despite knowing the odds against success. This is a good trait. Optimism allows you to believe that you will get to your goal — even if that doesn’t happen right away.
Her optimism was most tested after her son Carter committed suicide in July 1988. This terrible tragedy was reported to rock her to the core of her being.But eventually she also addressed this tragedy with her trademark optimism and encouraged people to talk about Carter in order to remember the good times.
She explained, "Some people … who knew Carter will start to talk about him and then say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ And I say, ‘No, I love to talk about him. More, more, more.’ Because that brings him alive and it brings him closer and it means that he hasn’t been forgotten.”
Another reflection of her optimism was that Vanderbilt never stopped looking for a “great love,” even having been married four times. And her optimism was infectious, rubbing off on everyone around her. I think it also was a big part of her success.
The importance of developing grit and determination.
If you are forging your own path in life as an entrepreneur and defying expectations, then you are going to need all the grit and determination you can muster. Looking at the example of Gloria Vanderbilt can help give you a model to follow.
5 Business and Life Lessons on Grit and Determination I Learned from the Late, Legendary Gloria Vanderbilt
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