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Grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness.

Updated: Feb 13

When you think about words of Tenacity, Hunger & Grit, you think about strength of character, strengths, or skills in general & dedication. Couple of weeks ago I was in Istanbul. It started to rain heavily, and I asked my friend to drop me off at my hotel. Due to traffic, a 17-minute ride turned into an almost 2 hour car ride. During which, I received a very simple but yet amazing advice because of its timing. “Understand what your strengths and leverage on them are, rather than improving your weaknesses to the level of your strengths. That will bring money and happiness.”

Before we move on let me explain the word, Grit.

Everyone has had moments where they doubted their ability to succeed. These moments may have come up in university during a tough course or even in more personal situations, like at the beginning of a new relationship. Entrepreneurs especially, both experienced and not, have an intimate knowledge of self-doubt. All of this, of course, is totally normal. This is in fact, where grit in business comes in.

We can thank Dr. Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, for bringing “grit” as an idea to the forefront. Dr. Duckworth, also a MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner, released Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance in 2016. The book refreshed the conversation about just how much persistence is worth in business and in life. Spoiler: it’s worth a lot.

What is grit? Duckworth defines it as “a combination of passion and perseverance for achieving long-term goals.” Passion is strong enthusiasm for a particular thing or idea, or as Duckworth explains it, falling in love with something and staying in love. Perseverance, on the other hand, involves “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. Basically, grit is the ability to set a goal and stick to it in the long-term.

Now, let’s get back to Istanbul car ride. I took note of that advice to elaborate on it. To be frank, I did come back to it multiple times. Wanted to always keep it on standby mode for the foreseeable future. I even shared the advice with my coach, which led on to a two-hour discussion. Speaking of …. My coach advised me a movie to watch after that session. It included a lot of “echoes” from books I have read.

The movie was called “Peaceful warrior”. Here is a beautiful quote from that movie - “To really help people, you first need to understand them—but first understand yourself, prepare yourself; develop the clarity, the courage, and the sensitivity to exert the right leverage, in the right place, at the right time. Then your actions will have power. History, he added, holds many examples of individuals and nations who acted without the wisdom to foresee the consequences.

Here is the connection between the quote from a movie & the advice I got. They both underline leveraging on strengths. That is why they both ring that imaginary bell. Now with a slight pivot, we are going to switch back to the origin or inspiration of this story. Which is related to “Hunger & Grit”.

I was having an online chat with a friend, for many reasons I admire his take on situations, both local & international, political and social. Here is a short description of him, he has sheer processing power, which gives him an ability to deconstruct any concept to simple terms. It is a very “Richard Feynman-like” ability. Another trait of his is, his humane side. Which is related to his faith & religion. Which is why, on many occasions he is one of my go-to-guy’s for questions about Islam.

We were discussing a colleague of mine and his success. Which led us to comparing him and us two (my friend and I). Here is the thesis that we concluded our discussion with.

“The socio-economic background usually dictates the persons “hunger & grit”. If we compare my colleague and you. Two people who come from very different backgrounds but their capacity and knowledge base is pretty much in the same vicinity. What made my former colleague who he is today is skill, hunger and dedication. What made us who we are today is skill, aspiration, more “socio-economic comfort” & curiosity. Having multiple options to pick and choose from vs having only one option, which is to succeed in your single-chosen path - is a huge differential. People coming from families who could afford education abroad tend to have a certain level of comfort engraved into them, which also serves as a cushion. Therefore sometimes, those who have more “comfort” do not feel the need to push the limits of their processing power. Meaning not hungry enough. However, people who grew up with more limited resources, have their dna engraved with “hunger & grit”. Nonetheless, none of these two groups succeed in life without skills, wisdom & knowledge-base.”

I concluded this thesis with this statement “It is very rare to see someone with our background to have that grit & hunger, it is frequently seasonal. However, people coming from backgrounds as my colleague, their “grit and hunger” is more full-time process.”

Now let me give you examples of the extremes. Better yet, examples of extraordinary & historic people.

One of my favorite examples of passionate and Gritty people is Jack Ma. Although he sounds weird when he starts to talk about the future of innovation. Nonetheless, his story speaks for itself.

Jack Ma’s life started with a simple upbringing, and he put in relentless effort to become a billionaire on his own terms. He had a strong desire to learn English and worked hard to improve his language skills. He practiced speaking with foreign visitors in a nearby park.

During his teenage years, he interacted with tourists from abroad to improve his English. Later, he pursued higher education at Hangzhou Normal University, earning a degree in English. As he continued his journey, he also attended the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing to further his education.

After completing his undergraduate degree in English, Jack Ma started his career as an educator, teaching English at Hangzhou Kianzi University. During this time, he earned a modest monthly income of just $12. He failed the admittance test 2 times before becoming a teacher.

Jack Ma’s life was marked by difficulties, beginning with his early academic struggles. He encountered disappointment twice in primary school and three times in middle school. His professional journey was no less challenging. He applied for a job at KFC, where 23 out of 24 applicants were hired, leaving him without a job. A similar fate awaited him when he sought a position in the police force.

Failures and rejections were a recurring theme in Jack Ma’s life. In 1995, during a trip to the United States for a government project related to highway construction, he encountered computers and the internet for the first time.

He ventured into website development when these concepts were still new in China, a time when personal computers were rare. Undeterred by the risks, he founded China Pages, one of the earliest web-based businesses in the country. The rest is history as we all know it. So many rejections, failures & setbacks. Out of poverty to the riches. With passion, dedication, resilience, grit & tenacity.

Although Jack may sound the way he does at some meetups with Elon. In his defence, Elon can outshine any living entrepreneur and engineer in the world.

Musk is another prime example of Grit & Hunger. This example is going to be kept short. Elon was bullied at school, once even he was hospitalized as a result of it. Furthermore, his father was constantly showing him tough love and was abusive. Led him onto having PTSD. “Musk’s brother, Kimbal, says the worst memory of his life was watching Errol berate & criticize harshly Musk after he was hospitalized. Right after a fight at school (the book says Musk was still getting corrective surgery for the injuries decades later).

“My father just lost it,” says Kimbal. Musk and Kimbal, who are estranged from their father, describe Errol Musk as a “volatile fabulist”. Interviewed by Isaacson, Errol admits he encouraged a “physical and emotional toughness” in his sons.

Grimes, the artist who is mother to three of his 10 children, says PTSD from Musk’s childhood shaped an aversion to contentment: “I just don’t think he knows how to savor success and smell the flowers.” Musk tells Isaacson he agrees: “Adversity shaped me. My pain threshold became very high.””

Here is what Elon said about his family wealth in early days.

“I grew up in a lower, transitioning to upper, middle-income situation, but did not have a happy childhood. Haven’t inherited anything ever from anyone, nor has anyone given me a large financial gift. My father created a small electrical/mechanical engineering company that was successful for 20 to 30 years, but it fell on hard times. He has been essentially bankrupt for about 25 years, requiring financial support from my brother and me,” he tweeted.

Today Elon is an inspiration to billions, he was one of creators of PayPal, he disrupted the electric vehicle market, he wants to take us to space & bought twitter just because he did not like where it was leading the population. He also created his own design of a fighter jet & manufacture a flamethrower. Let that sink in!

Elon Musk changed lived of millions

I cannot come up with better examples of Grit & Hunger in business world, which will top these two guys. Jack & Elon changed lives of millions and millions. What they have in common is obvious. Knowledge, skill, grit, and hunger!

Now let’s look at the examples of the “opposites”. To the people who shredded themselves from riches to poverty. Next two examples will be about “peaceful warriors”. Who basically dethroned themselves from their wealth in order to achieve peace. Outcomes of their decisions and different kind of resilience may be the same, in terms of changing lives of millions and millions. However, what they fought for was different, and it was not the riches.

Mahatma Gandhi…The person who taught me a lot with just one sentence. Here it goes.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

What Mahatma is actually trying to say with this sentence is - be true to yourself. And I did. However, that’s a story for another day.

At this point I would like you to scope in towards Mahatma’s backstory for a bit. Gandhi was born on the 2nd of October 1869, in the city of Porbandar, in present-day Gujarat, and was named Mohandas Gandhi. He came from a Hindu family and his father served as the dewan, or chief minister, of several small princely states. In 1888, Gandhi travelled to England to study law at University College London. It was during this time that he first began to develop his political views. He studied law and jurisprudence at University College London, where he was encouraged to enroll at Inner Temple with the goal of being a barrister.

After returning to India in 1891, Gandhi began working as a lawyer in Bombay (now Mumbai). In 1893, Gandhi accepted a one-year contract to work as a law clerk in South Africa. It was here that he first experienced racial discrimination firsthand. One incident in particular had a profound impact on Gandhi. In June of 1893, he was travelling by train from Durban to Pretoria when he was ordered to move from first class to third class, purely based upon his race. When Gandhi refused, he was thrown off the train, and had to spend a night sleeping in Pietermaritzburg train station.

This was a critical point in Gandhi's life. He had always considered himself the equal of any other subject of the British Empire, but this event made him realize that Indians were treated as second-class citizens in South Africa.

Later on, Gandhi was given medals for his efforts, gathered thousands for protests, established a newspaper, organized mass protests, returned to India, became affiliated with political parties & fought for India’s independence.

Mahatma’s kind of Grit is different it derives from absence of hunger, presence of injustice & knowledge. Everything that happened after India’s liberation to Gandhi and his accomplishments as a historical figure you already know.

On 13 January, beginning what would prove to be his last fast, the Mahatma said: ‘Death for me would be a glorious deliverance rather than that I should be a helpless witness of the destruction of India, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam’, and explained that his dream was for the Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Muslims of all India to live together in amity. On the 20th a group of Hindu fanatics, who detested Gandhi’s calls for tolerance and peace, set off a bomb some yards from him, which did no harm. It was not the first attempt on Gandhi’s life, but he said: ‘If I am to die by the bullet of a madman, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.’

On January 30th Mahatma Gandhi was shot 3 times, while he was weak from fasting on that day. Millions gathered and mourned. It's interesting to note that Gandhi apparently only had six possessions when he died, and among them were - a watch, spectacles, sandals, eating bowl and couple of more items.

On January 30th Mahatma Gandhi was shot 3 times, while he was weak from fasting on that day. Millions gathered and mourned. It's interesting to note that Gandhi apparently only had six possessions when he died, and among them were - a watch, spectacles, sandals, eating bowl and couple of more items.

Let me share my final BIG example.

Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama was born around 567 BCE. in a small kingdom just below the Himalayan foothills. His father was a chief of the Shakya clan. It is said that twelve years before his birth the brahmins prophesied that he would become either a universal monarch or a great sage. To prevent him from becoming an ascetic, his father kept him within the confines of the palace. Gautama grew up in princely luxury, shielded from the outside world, entertained by dancing girls, instructed by brahmins, and trained in archery, swordsmanship, wrestling, swimming, and running. When he came of age he married Gopa, who gave birth to a son. He had, as we might say today, everything.

And yet, it was not enough. Something—something as persistent as his own shadow—drew him into the world beyond the castle walls. There, in the streets of Kapilavastu, he encountered three simple things: a sick man, an old man, and a corpse being carried to the burning grounds. Nothing in his life of ease had prepared him for this experience. When his charioteer told him that all beings are subject to sickness, old age, and death, he could not rest.

As he returned to the palace, he passed a wandering ascetic walking peacefully along the road, wearing the robe and carrying the single bowl of a sadhu. He then resolved to leave the palace in search of the answer to the problem of suffering. After bidding his wife and child a silent farewell without waking them, he rode to the edge of the forest. There, he cut his long hair with his sword and exchanged his fine clothes for the simple robes of an ascetic.

As the Buddha’s fame spread, kings and other wealthy patrons donated parks and gardens for retreats. The Buddha accepted these, but he continued to live as he had ever since his twenty-ninth year: as a wandering sadhu, begging his own meal, spending his days in meditation. Only now there was one difference. Almost every day, after his noon meal, the Buddha taught. None of these discourses, or the questions and answers that followed, were recorded during the Buddha’s lifetime.

At age 80 the Buddha, weak from old age and illness, accepted a meal (it is difficult to identify from the texts what the meal consisted of, but many scholars believe it was pork) from a smith named Chunda, instructing the smith to serve him alone and bury the rest of the meal without offering it to the other monks. The Buddha became severely ill shortly thereafter, and at a place called Kusinara (also spelled Kushinagar; modern Kasia) lay down on his right side between two trees, which immediately blossomed out of season (according to legend).

Finally, he declared that all conditioned things are transient and exhorted the monks to strive with diligence. These were his last words. The Buddha then entered into meditative absorption, passing from the lowest level to the highest, then from the highest to the lowest, before entering the fourth level of concentration, whence he passed into nirvana.

At this point of the story, we can conclude the following. I have outlined the lives of two entrepreneurs who are changing the world with hunger, dedication, grit & passion. Thereafter, I have outlined the lives and deaths of two globally known personalities who were born into riches and died in deprivation, peace, tranquility & harmony. That does not mean that they did not have grit & passion. They both were very passionate about their purposes and missions; however, they lived completely different lives, due to the background they had. One was a prince & another was from a wealthy family, who ended up becoming a lawyer.

The variable which both Elon & Jack had engraved into all their actions and decisions was - Hunger. What they all had in common was Grit & Passion. What all of them believed in was: their mission, purpose & their connection to the source (meaning Allah, God, Universe, Creator - whoever you believe is Divine). What they all did was, they all managed to change the world to the better in their own unique ways.

With a connection to the Creator, with a purpose, with a mission, knowledge, wisdom, grit & dedication you too can change the world. Only thing you need to develop, if you do not have it, is Hunger.

Unfortunately, we live in a very material world. Therefore, I do not urge you to become a nomad, unless you really want it. I do not want you to detach from the real world, I would like you to be extraordinary within current conditions & change them for the better. I would love to see you striving for greatness.

“My hunger has destroyed my fear of failure. Being hungry is the key element of my success. I am not satisfied with what I achieved yesterday. I want to make progress, to innovate, to grow and to revolutionize the world.” – Steve Jobs

Stay hungry & Pura Vida!


Additional reading

First one to read this article was my friend Aleem. Yet another fictional name which depicts, how I see him and apparently, he loves this name too. He was the inspiration for this article and provided a major contribution. I want to thank him for his open mindedness, friendship, appreciation & endless contributions to my journey. He shares with me a new concept called “Angst”. Which is as he said, “It’s something most of the have been through, but don’t know what this “thing” is”. One of those people was me….

Thank you, Aleem & welcome, to my world of writing.

Here is the concept of “Angst” by S. Kierkegaard

“Kierkegaard spent most of his writing talking about concepts such as anxiety or angst and despair. The Sickness unto Death is a life changing book about the despair of not being one’s true self and quite short at around a few hundred pages long, depending on the version.

One of his famous quotes is “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”.

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudians works of psychology. Human beings enjoy a freedom of choice that we find both appealing and terrifying. It is the anxiety of understanding freedom when considering undefined possibilities of one’s life and one’s power of choice over them. Angst is one of the primary features of Kierkegaard’s philosophy. It is deeper than anxiety, it is a sort of dread, however – dread without an object. Which is worse than dread, you don’t see it coming, you just know something is wrong.

We have an infinite number of possibilities, and when we have to choose one, we become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of them. If you ask someone if they are an individual, they will undoubtedly say yes. However, one may possess the ability to freely act, but if one never uses it and gets lost in the infinite, thinking about an endless sea of possibilities, they are effectively not capable of freely acting.

Infinite possibilities

The other part Kierkegaard emphasises is the finite. That is, not considering enough possibilities and just mindlessly going around the demands of culture and social expectations. The scary part is that most people are less aware of this, they see everything they do as their own choice. However, some people live a complete lie. They live because of what their mom and dad, friends, and society tell them that’s what one does.

Suppose a man that finds his high school sweetheart, they graduate together, they marry and have kids, they get a house mortgage and work at a normal job and so on. This man didn’t do all of this because he wanted to, but because that’s what he was expected to do. He then realises he’s been living a lie, divorces and quits his job. He moves out to find something meaningful in his life, he works in a fast food chain and romanticises about his future day after day, month after month, year after year.

Living a lie

For Kierkegaard, the only way out of this is to take a leap of faith, which may be the ultimate irrational experience, but for him it is the most reasonable thing you can do, you choose the person you are going to be rather than the world choosing for you.

Leap of faith

And when you make that choice, you can actually act on it and be an individual. It is the ultimate subjective experience. This is his justification on why you should take a leap of faith.”


Nurlan Alasgarov
Nurlan Alasgarov
Dec 18, 2023




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