“Success is failure turned inside out…
And you can never tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”
As a 10-yr old kid, I used to stay up till 11 pm every night to spend 30 minutes with my dad before going to sleep. He was working for the Indian Railways and traveled from Chennai to Tirupathi every day (4 hours by train each way) – leaving at 5 am and getting back home at 11 pm – and this went on for seven long years. When friends asked him why not stay at the well-appointed government quarters close to the office and travel back only weekends, he replied that he wanted to spend the night with the family. That was my introduction to Grit demonstrated by a parent – though I didn’t know this at that time.
Today, I feel blessed to partner with some of the best founders in our country. And that too, from their very early days when they mainly have an idea and little to show for traction. Many of these companies are well-known household names in India. And the founders are celebrated for their successes.
What people don’t know is the blood, sweat, and years of grind, in the deepest of valleys, each founder has plowed through. Though they have raised well more than $1B as a group (to fuel their journeys), these founders have pitched to 50 to 100 investors each, with a 90% rejection rate. Yes, even the best of them have faced many rejections. And most of them have been through near-death experiences, where they had only a few months of runway before a potential shut down (one such story in the highlights section below). But, they all hung in there and rode it out with Grit.
Two books that I read this year re-iterated the importance of Grit and laid out some key concepts that are relevant, irrespective of our field or stage in life – “Grit” by Angela Duckworth and “Chop Wood, Carry Water” by Joshua Medcalf. Both of these books are worth studying carefully.
Excerpts from the books – for us to ponder:
“The rough side of the mountain actually molds you and shapes you into a person who can travel much further in life, just like those roughed-up golf balls. The blemishes, scars, and setbacks are what give you the character to take you places other people are too soft and smooth to go!” – Chop Wood Carry Water (CWCW)
Based on Angela’s research, Grit is something we can develop just like a muscle.
“We get so used to seeing superstars on game day, that we forget what we do not see: all the hours they spend beating on their craft, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, with no one watching.” – CWCW
Figuring out your calling:
Dabble with various interests. Figure out your Passion. And discover your Purpose that impacts others.
“A mission driven life dedicated to serving is one of the most powerful lives you can live, and you only get one life to live. I hope your life is a story worth telling” – CWCW
Effort and Deliberate Practice:
Effort counts twice: To develop skill and to apply the skill to achieve greatness
Deliberate Practice: Set narrow stretch goals, work towards it, solicit feedback hungrily, repeat with reflection and refinement, and make this a habit
“Gritty people do more deliberate practice and experience more flow.“ – Grit
Is critical for Grit and requires some optimism for tomorrow (while grinding it out today)
“Anything that happens to me today is in my best interest and it is an opportunity for me to learn and grow.” – CWCW
Final excerpt – on the importance of choosing our friends wisely.
“If you want to achieve your greatest potential, you must surround yourself with people who love you deeply, believe in you, and encourage you, but who are also willing to challenge you to become the best you can be by modeling greatness for you.” – Grit
One tip on figuring out your goals – from Arpita, co-founder MechMocha:
“as someone who has so many areas of interest, the tree framework for goals from the Grit book helped me see through what I actually want. It was harder than I thought. But, coupled with five whys on each of my goals, I could finally get to something that made sense to me.”
Grit Diaries: Let’s see Grit in action in real life through the stories below
There are many great Grit stories in the startup world. Here’s one on Masters of Scale – “Grit Happens with Nancy Lubins”.
As investors, we are fortunate to get front row seats to observe the Grit stories of startups that leave us awestruck. Here is one such story that really stands out. Vedantu is a company that we partnered from their earliest days, through the past five years. They are now one of the most respected EdTech companies in India, impacting the way millions of Indian kids learn online. But, listen to this story shared by Vamsi, co-founder, and CEO of Vedantu. He talks about a phase in the company’s history, which really tested his Grit (click here to watch 3 mins 17:10 to 20:20).
We all know the genius of Elon Musk and how accomplished he is as the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX – at the same time. Did you know he was vilified, ridiculed, and came close to shutting these companies multiple times? Watch him almost cry and talk about some of his tough times.
And finally, let us listen to Alex Honnold talks about scaling the 3,000-foot vertical cliff in Yosemite, without any harness, and all that he had to do, to achieve this feat.
In these challenging times, each of us is climbing our own mountain. Some of us hanging on to jobs by a thread, while figuring out how to deal with visa issues. Others are fighting inner battles while staying positive and leading our companies forward. And some others, adjusting to the new normal of being enclosed within the same four walls for months on end, albeit with loved ones.
Let us all hang in there just that extra day. The new normal is not just one of new challenges but will throw in new opportunities as well. Let us draw on that extra ounce of patience in every interaction. It is our time to flex and train the Grit muscle. And, here’s wishing godspeed on whichever mountain we are on – keep climbing.
(Here’s a song dedicated to all the gritty climbers, sung by my 12-year-old)
Grit – that’s our topic for today. It’s not about which mountain we are on in life or what the destination is – it’s about how gritty we are on the climb.
Please don’t miss the videos embedded and the song at the end.
Hat tip to the founders I’ve had the pleasure of observing closely – Anjana Reddy, Anil Dharni, Aprameya Radhakrishna, Arpita Kapoor, Chandrasekhar K, Niraj Singh, Raghunandan G, Rajesh Yabaji, Sriharsha M., Sumit Maniyar, Vamsi Krishna, Vivekananda Hallekere