Grit and Gratitude: The Entrepreneurial Balancing Act

There are characteristics I’ve noticed that many successful entrepreneurs have. It’s not what people think are the important ones either — smarts, work ethic, creativity. Those are helpful, but we all know plenty of smart, hardworking people with great ideas who aren’t entrepreneurs. No, what I’ve noticed is something that no one is born with.

You aren’t born with grit just like you aren’t born with thick skin. It takes time, failures, trying again, failing again and trying once more. Success isn’t born of just getting back up on the horse, however. Grit is balanced by gratitude — humility combined with the ability to understand how your past experiences affect your future, without including your ego.

What Makes Grit?

It’s hard to define grit, because even though it’s found in the boardroom, classroom, and playing field, everyone has taken a different path to get there. What it does have in common wherever it’s found is success. The ability to not only get knocked off the horse, but to get right back on. Again and again, no matter how many times it takes.

Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Reflecting on this quotation was the inspiration for Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way. Drawing on three sections — perception, action and will, Holiday discusses how obstacles don’t impede, but rather provide opportunity to see the positive that lies past the negative.

Anyone who has tried to start a company has probably failed at least once, and the people who’ve started a successful company have probably failed a lot more than that. They managed to do it again, taking with them the lessons from their prior failures, rather than living in them. Ben Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists, author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and no stranger to hard times notes, “You have to keep looking for a move. Even if you are dead and buried and they have shoveled dirt on you, you have to keep going.”

What Makes Gratitude?

In short, gratitude makes grit effective. Where some might wallow in a failure, an entrepreneur with gratitude realizes the lessons learned will help propel the next project to success.

Gratitude encompasses more than just a positive attitude. People who are thankful are generally happier. Starting a business takes a lot from a person, and giving thanks allows you to better understand those around you. This empathy is absolutely key for any successful venture. When you appreciate and respect those you work with, you build a team that is not only talented, but even more dedicated to achieving your goals.

How Grit and Gratitude Work Together

Starting a business is a balancing act. Figuring out how to manage your time, life, and limited resources effectively requires give and take. Grit and gratitude are the same. One cannot dominate the other, and too much of either can be dangerous. Holiday writes about the importance of zeroing out the ego, “the unhealthy belief in your own importance” in another bestselling book Ego is the Enemy.

Not to be confused with confidence, ego inhibits building relationships, mastering a craft, recognizing or even creating opportunities. In short, ego directly opposes humility, the key to developing gratitude.

Where gratitude allows you to recognize the part that others play in your success, ego blocks them out, and isolates you in the process.

Where confidence allows you to recognize that you have what it takes to succeed, grit is built from every attempt to move forward.

Where the two come together is right in the middle. True success takes the belief that you can achieve, and the understanding that you need the people who make you succeed just as much as you need yourself.

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