Grit: Entrepreneur’s secret weapon

So many times, you hear that the secret sauce of a successful start-up is “grit”. The question is what defines “grit” and where does it come from.

What drives an entrepreneur to work insane hours, keep taking no and give up “hanging” out on the weekend.

I think it is the need to build combined with an insatiable appetite to succeed.

I can’t talk for others but I can speak to how these characteristics were both nurtured inside of me and part of my background.

Nurture Vs. Nature

  1. The stock that you are born from is definitely a determining factor

I look at my ancestors and they all made bold decisions and faced insurmountable odds. One grandfather chose to farm in North Dakota. Because North Dakota has some of the least fertile land in the US, it was being given out free to those willing to try and farm on it. The other grandfather left a wife and child in Slovakia and stole away on a boat to a new land. He wanted to give his family the option of being free and not suppressed. It took him 10 years to reunite with his wife and child. My father was missing in action in the Himalayas and hiked with soles of his shoes tied to his feet to safety. My mother fought hard for the licensing of registered dieticians to protect the consumer from charlatans who were giving out wrong nutritional advice. My ancestors don’t choose the easy road.

My ancestors have demonstrated an internal drive to succeed. I believe that their drive is within my DNA. Being an entrepreneur is not just about having the “spark” in your DNA, it also needs to be nurtured and sparked.


What did someone experience in their life that built drive?

Results of Nature and Nurture = How did nature and nurture blend within me?

My parents were older than most of my peer’s parents. They instilled in me an insane work ethic from a young age. I had chores starting at age 5. I got a paper route at age 11. I worked in high school at the department store and have worked ever since. I was part of Junior Achievement in high school as well. I learned how to run a business. I did Toastmasters and learned how to public speak. I was taught that effort is just as important as the result. I was also taught pride in your effort and final result. Don’t be a slacker. If you are going to do a job then you need to do it 100% or better. In order to get the best final result, you need to give an effort that you are proud of. The combination of pride and effort is drive.

I started asking why at a young age and never stopped. My parents read every sign in every museum. This passion was passed down. I love visiting museums and manufacturing plants. Both are places where knowledge is exploding. My desire to absorb knowledge was started at a young age. My father read the encyclopedia and would talk about what he learned at the dinner table. My curiosity drove my love of travel and the exhilarating feeling that you get when you discover new things. My mom was very insisted that I not marry young and go travel and see the world. I took her advice and have been to almost every state in the union and a significant amount of countries overseas.

Problem Solver:
This is where nature drove nurture. I love puzzles and can solve them easily. I am drawn to fixing things. My superhero power is to be able to access a difficult problem and boil it down so people can understand it. I am addicted to examples. Complexity translated to relateable analogies. There is a fuel inside of me that drives me to keep with problems until I solve it. This was very helpful when I was a programmer. This is very helpful as an entrepreneur because there are always way more to do than time to do it.

The lowest point growing up was when I knew that my mom needed to get a job despite the fact that she didn’t tell us. I remember vividly asking her if she got the job and she said no but that was ok because God’s plan was ahead and we needed to have faith. A week later, she got her dream job of doing patient care, advocacy and education. The moment in time had a dramatic effect on me because it taught me the value of faith. Faith looks different to different people. I define faith as believing in being ok with today because tomorrow is what is meant to be. Whether that involves religion, that is a personal choice. I had such a great teacher in my mother. Her version of faith involved Catholicism and prayer.

Compassion and Empathy:
When you grow up with loved ones who have been sick, I feel you grow up with a certain about of intrinsic compassion built into your life. All of my life, I saw my mother treat my father with compassion and understanding. She was selfless beyond belief. I grew up with a living example of how the sum of the parts is bigger than the individual pieces. I have the ability to be extremely empathic and put myself in the shoes of others.

The more times that someone has to battle to keep their head above water and stay positive, the stronger a person becomes. I have faced an insane amount of adversity but I will not fail.

Karen Salay — startup: Roll Call

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Sales/GTM Wizard•Blockchain•Satoshi is Female Believer• Follow @karensalay•Female Entrepreneur•Accelerator Advisor•Turtle Lover• Traveler•Dream Believer