Running: Passion and Perseverance

image via Creative Commons

Last night I ran a track workout with a large group. I was determined to do my very best and acquitted myself pretty well. That said, I did what was asked and not much more. On the other hand, I watched as one of my friends ran to the workout, added laps at every opportunity, and ran home.

There was a time in my life when I might have thought, “Well, she’s obviously gifted.” And that may be true. But what I also know is that she works very hard.

One of our most common biases in life is to attribute the success of others to their natural abilities. If we’re not careful, this attribution error can provide us with an excuse for not working hard: “I could never be as good as her, so I won’t even try.”

In the book “GRIT” by Angela Duckworth, I found insight to me and affirmed some of the things I have always thought.

One idea struck me as being useful for all of us. The premise of the book is that GRIT, which is persistence and passion, is a greater determinant of success than talent. This doesn’t negate talent, of course, but Duckworth’s formula is this:

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement

So, as you can see, Effort counts twice.

Frederich Nietzsche said:

“With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic…No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become. That is its advantage, for wherever one can see the act of becoming, one grows somewhat cool. Our vanity, our self-love promotes the cult of the genius, for if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. To call someone divine means, “Here, there is no need to compete.” “

In other words, it’s easier to attribute success to natural talent because it’s hard to admit (sometimes) that someone has worked much harder than us.

(Of course, I hasten to add that those of us who are runners walk a line because we need to put forth our best effort while not injuring ourselves.)

Three examples from among many:

1. I have a friend who is graceful as a runner (and is the most photogenic racer I know). Because she makes things look easy, folks might be tempted to discount how hard she worked to get where she is. We might think she comes by this naturally. The fact is that she has worked as hard as any of us.

2. A couple of summers ago, I watched a friend do his first half-Ironman triathlon and he had a very difficult swim. He subsequently worked hard on his swimming and the next year, did his swim in less than half the time. I’m sure there was someone there thinking, “I wish I could swim like that guy.” I know the hard work that made that happen.

3. Finally, I would cite my friend Michael. He set a target of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I have never seen anyone work harder and have no doubt he will achieve his goal.

If this is a season in your life where you are happy to just enjoy the beauty of running, that is a wonderful thing. If you are thinking you might like to go for a new PR this fall, then consider this as the bottom line: You can’t explore the limits of your achievement until you explore the limits of your effort. Always consider any limitations you put on yourself, in any aspect of your life, to be artificial and arbitrary until proven otherwise.

P.S. Here’s a talk by Duckworth which summarizes her work.

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