Grit: Developing Interest and Purpose

Do you want to be grittier and more engaged at work?

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Photo: Jarin Bontrager

In my last blog post I defined grit as maintaining steadfast focus on a high-level goal over considerable time despite challenges, setbacks and failure. I also referred to Angela Duckworth’s research that suggests grit has two components—passion and perseverance. Her research also indicates there are four psychological assets that can help you grow grit: interest, practice, purpose, and hope. In this post, I’m going to look at developing interest and purpose to increase passion.


Let’s start with a couple of hard truths that may provide some comfort.

Most of us don’t end up doing what we dreamed of growing up, either because our perfect job didn’t exist or making a living took precedence. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Gallup research indicates that only about 20% of us are doing what we love.

It’s also unlikely that you’ll wake up one day with an epiphany of your true calling. Rather, it will be a long process of trial and error exploring different pathways, while doing a mediocre job so that you can pay the bills.

However, the upside of taking time to explore various interests is it can increase self-awareness and your chance of having an ‘aha moment’ when something really clicks.

So, where do you start?

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive approach to finding your passion. You just need to try things that grab your attention and then progressively eliminate interests that don’t light your fire.

Photo: Wil Stewart

“…passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.”

— Angela Duckworth

Often things grab our attention because they’re novel, don’t make sense or really cute (hence why being a vet is also a popular career choice growing up). That’s okay, it’s a starting point and you never know where it will lead.

Now, before you rush off and start crossing things off your list…

…it’s important to note that developing passion requires perseverance (practice and hope). Some things may not initially capture your interest or the novelty may wear off quickly. Yet with practice and hope you may find unexpected enjoyment. I’m going to cover this in next week’s post so now let’s turn our attention to the second psychological asset associated with passion: purpose.

Photo: Rob Lambert


Purpose involves pursuing what is important and valuable to you. For many of us an interest generates more purpose when it is focused on other people. This may happen at the outset of developing passion or further down the track.

Contributing to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of others can also help us make sense of things. And this in turn will likely make our experiences more meaningful. For instance, someone could be a passionate football player and then later use their extensive knowledge, skills and experience to coach new players.

Having said that, you can still be gritty with a self-directed goal. It just may be harder to sustain your level of interest over a long period. To illustrate, researchers have found people who view their work as a calling—not for advancement (career) or way to make a living (job)—are more likely to have higher engagement and lower absenteeism.

Thankfully, studies have also shown that any type of work can be a calling. It’s more about how you choose to view your work than the actual job description.

Consider this: do you see your work as just a way to get paid, a path to the next role or something bigger that connects to and helps other people?

If you want to develop more purpose here are three things you can try:

1. Reflect on how your work contributes to the bigger picture

2. Come up with some ways to modify your work so it’s more aligned with your personal interests and values

3. Find a role model who inspires you to be the best version of yourself

“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”

— Dalai Lama

Also from Positive Legacies:

Grit Defined

Cultivating Compassion for Self and Others

Battling Your Inner Demons

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