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Soulful Sundays: Mundanity

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." ~Oscar Wilde

The University of Pennsylvania's Angela Duckworth is know as the world's leading expert in the science of grit. At her Grit Lab, she and her students study the importance of mindset as a determinant for long term success. Their conclusion: strategic perseverance is the single most important factor for lifelong achievement.

Grit, stick-to-it-ness, perseverance, dedication, and tenacity are all synonyms for the ability to stay focused on putting one foot in front of the next. While genetics may load the gun of success (so-to-speak), practice is what pulls the trigger. Michael Phelps, Yo Yo Ma, and J. K. Rowling were all born with an inheritance of talent, but it was their drive to work hard that allowed that talent to grow. What separates the good from the great is not a secret formula, a special routine, or a divine insight. It is a simple love for mundanity.

Bruce Lee once said, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear one who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." (We are assuming here that the practice is executed intelligently.) There is a palpable gap between someone who is moderately skilled and someone who has mastered their craft. Their way of being is different. The way that they move is different. They have a quiet confidence in what they are about to do. Their creation is an extension of themselves and not separate from them.

The price for possessing such skill is dedication and no small amount faith. A person can be great at many things with just a few hours of deliberate practice each week (done over several years), but to reach mastery, one must incorporate the pursuit into his or her very essence. This is where trust comes in. By fusing with a practice, we are making the conscious declaration of its importance in the hierarchy of things. We only have a finite amount time to spend, so naturally we would prefer to spend it on what is most important. Many things will come along to derail us from our goals. Our grit determines how we will make it through them.

Another way to look at tenacity is as a proxy for the personality trait known as conscientiousness. Conscientious people are well organized, systematic, and disciplined in their approach to problems. They are dutiful and dependable. These are the kinds of friends who you call when you need accountability. However, taken to its extreme, conscientiousness can result in perfectionism and overwork, both of which are antithetical to high achievement and happiness.

The sweet spot, then, is to have a balance of grit and humility—an openness to admit mistakes and correct them. If we are pointed in a direction that is disasterous, then no amount of effort will make it right. Likewise, good intentions are only borne out on the backs of the hardworking. If we can learn to love the daily mundane work necessary for achievement, then we are less likely to get caught up in the achievement itself. Thus, we grow stronger in our ability to tolerate stress and persevere.

Stay focused. Get organized. Remain humble.

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