March / April 2017

Perseverance & Grit: Effort Counts Twice

Brody J. Stara, CPIP

Now that we’re all finding smart mentors and career coaches (see the YP State of Mind article in the January-February issue of Pharmaceutical Engineering), I want to reflect on an important skill: perseverance.

Engineers and scientists by nature look for methodical ways to solve problems, so for us some level of perseverance is a must. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance1 , psychologist Angela Duckworth says that perseverance, or “grit,” as she calls it, is a trait that may count more than we realize.

Intelligence alone, she argues, isn’t enough to get you to the highest levels of success. You need to put in effort over time and persevere through the setbacks. In fact, effort was so important in her calculation that she counted it twice:

Talent × Effort = Skill
Skill × Effort = Achievement

Put these equations into the workplace and you realize that “effort” is what gets you noticed by colleagues, managers, and recruiters. They don’t judge you on your IQ score, they judge you on your effort and passion for the work you do.

Duckworth compares grit and perseverance to the 10,000-hour rule, widely believed to be “the amount of time one must invest in practice in order to reach meaningful success in any field.” 2 At 40 hours per week, that translates to about 5 years. Take a second to think about that number, and compare it to your long-range plan and career goals. You’re going to need a lot of effort and grit to get there.

Being “gritty” in your day-to-day actions can mean a lot of things. The first example that comes to mind is powering through setbacks. When a project goes awry or an experiment fails, you don’t give up or spend time complaining. You persevere and work around it. You ask for help, collaborate with your team, and find a new way to succeed. In fact, you aren’t afraid to make the mistake in the first place. You take risks because you know that if you fail, you’ll keep trying.

As a Young Professional designing a temperature control loop for a bioreactor, you find the heat load needed to keep your cells happy. When the system finally gets installed, however, you find that the vessel must be brought to temperature significantly faster than you calculated. If you’re a gritty person in this situation, you don’t point fingers; you jump into the new problem and quickly determine how to get the system up to operational needs. Simply being smart won’t fix the problem. You need to work for it.

“Effort” Is What Gets You Noticed By Colleagues, Managers, And Recruiters

Another great example is stepping up to lead when there are known challenges ahead. This happens all the time in ISPE student chapters. Leadership is constantly turning over and new, gritty leaders need to step up and develop their skills to lead, knowing that it won’t be easy. Perhaps the past chair didn’t save any documents or your industry mentor moved away. The easy thing is to stand by and wait until you graduate, but stepping up to organize the student body and create meaningful events builds your leadership skills and your grittiness.

It shouldn’t surprise you that these are characteristics every employer wants to hear about. Stories of perseverance through tough times show hiring managers that your past performance is a good indicator of future success for you and for the company. An article in Digitalist Magazine supported this theory, indicating that “grittier” employees are easier to onboard as they engage more with the manager and staff to get up to speed. They take a more active role in their own professional development, and “when an employee is dedicated to improving their existing skills and advancing within your organization, you know you have someone on your team who can offer real value.”3

Armed with this knowledge, we Young Professionals need drive and stamina to put in the effort required to achieve our goals. We need to remind ourselves that to achieve our 5-year plans, our 10-year plans, and our ultimate career goals, we’ll need to jump-start our grittiness every time we start to settle into that comfortable routine.