This last weekend, I rewatched the critically-acclaimed film Creed. If you’re not familiar, it’s the reboot of the Rocky franchise, this time focusing on Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis (Donny).
The training regimens of the boxers in the film are intense and inspiring. I remember thinking, “Why can’t the rest of us simply apply this kind of discipline to our own pursuits?”
And then the film revealed something that I had missed the first time. It was a twist on the usual rags-to-riches boxing story:
Adonis Creed truly loves to fight.
Rocky, who is now in the role of the trainer, comments on the peculiarity of this fact. Most fighters turn to boxing to escape dire circumstances. This wasn’t the case with Donny.
Yes, he started fighting in a problematic way as a young boy, given that he was bouncing around foster homes. But once he was taken in my Apollo’s wealthy widow, he was set. He grew up comfortably, and had a promising job where he had just been promoted.
None of that mattered. He was going to fight — just like his father — no matter what.
The drive to keep going with a career in boxing was burning inside him, regardless of his external circumstances. And that passion set the stage for the film’s dramatic ending (and the inevitable sequels to come).
Passion + Perseverance = Success
Research shows that when it comes to achieving success, perseverance beats talent. And we also know that you can intentionally cultivate greater levels of perseverance.
Psychologist and author Angela Duckworth defines grit as the combination of passion and perseverance. My first impression when reading the first half of her best-selling book was that passion is a critical component of perseverance. And it is.
But I later realized that perseverance is also required to fuel passion. The two are inherently intertwined.
That’s because is the vast majority of cases, passion isn’t followed, it’s found. And you’ve got to persist in trying new things to find your particular passions.
In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is realistic advice for young people entering the world of work. The key to finding work you love is about trying new tasks and roles, putting in the effort to develop relevant skills, and thereby discovering what most appeals to you.
Duckworth confirms Newport’s conclusions in Grit:
I don’t think most young people need encouragement to follow their passion. Most would do exactly that — in a heartbeat — if only they had a passion in the first place.
It’s incredibly rare to develop a persistent passion as a child. It’s usually during the teenage years at the earliest that a significant interest arises, and that’s after trying out a variety of pursuits.
As we get older, we often stop looking for new passions, all while allowing previous passions to wither away. That’s a mistake on both counts if you’re interested in personal growth.
The point is this — passion doesn’t just pop out of nowhere, and it doesn’t grow without intentional development. It starts with an interest that gets cultivated over time into something that burns hotter.
Three Steps to Finding Your Passion
Again, it takes both passion and perseverance to succeed at a higher level. People who possess both exemplify the characteristic of grit, and research shows they not only perform better, they enormously enjoy what they do.
Angela Duckworth’s research reveals four components that all gritty people possess. The first of these is interest, which is a much less intense state than passion, yet still qualifies as the necessary intrinsic motivation that is the foundation of passionate pursuits.
It makes sense. We may be interested in many things at any given time, but not all of them will result in a passion. On the other hand, you won’t ever develop a passion for something that you’re not interested in.
So how do we find what interests us? Despite what many may think, it’s not through introspection. Instead, we discover our interests by interacting with the real world and trying new things.
Research shows that there are three key steps on the path to passion:
- Discover: If you haven’t yet identified your passion, discovery is where you begin. What do you like to think about? What do you really care about? What matters? How do you enjoy spending time? And conversely, what do you find absolutely unbearable? From there, simply start doing things based on what you find.
- Develop: Whether you’ve identified a new interest or are rekindling an existing one, interests require development over time. As you keep going, this is where introspection helps you decide if you’re on the right path to a passion. Your knowledge and experience grows, as does your confidence and desire to attain mastery.
- Deepen: Even as you develop a skill, you may not feel like you have a true passion for it. Our brains crave novelty, which might lead you to abandon all the work you’ve put in for something new. Instead, deepen your interest to the level of nuance. You’ll not only find the level of “new” that your brain craves, you’ll also achieve passionate aficionado status.
It all begins with interest. And you can see how the process of developing and deepening your interest into passion also embodies the other components of a gritty personality.
Play Before You Work
If identifying and developing interests sounds like a lot of work, that may be the wrong mindset to begin with. The process is more about playing around with new activities and pursuits until something sticks. Then you can decide to get serious, and that’s when the work begins.
That’s also the point when something cool happens. The “work” doesn’t feel so much like work, even though you’re giving it your all. That’s the beauty of intrinsic motivation that evolves into a passionate pursuit.
So, pick your next quest carefully. Then embrace the joy that comes with seeing it through.
Also published on Medium.