3 min read

Grit is a leading indicator of success, but at what point does it go too far?

At what point does grit transition into stupidity? Let's explore
Grit is a leading indicator of success, but at what point does it go too far?
Photo by Jon Moore / Unsplash

Sustain issue #19 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

Much has been written about Simone Biles and her decision to pull herself from some Olympic competition last week.

My hope is that Biles and, earlier, Naomi Osaka’s brave examples will be a catalyst for us in the business world. A catalyst for saying no and for pulling back more regularly to put our sanity first. What if we didn’t just call out sick, but also called out sad, as Adam Grant has suggested recently?

This leads me to today’s topic: Grit.

In Angela Duckworth’s 2016 bestseller, she defines Grit as, “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal” And research shows it’s one of the top indicators of success in every domain.

I believe all that to be true, if pursued in a healthy way. The trouble is, the concept of grit and hustle have morphed together in our machismo culture.

That’s why we have people calling out Biles for, essentially, not having enough grit to push through and compete.

So, I’m left asking a very simple but hard to answer question: At what point does grit transition into stupidity?

“We have to protect our mind and body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.” -Simone Biles

Let's play a game

Let’s look at a few different scenarios and see if we can decipher between grit and stupidity:

If you’re a gymnast spinning and flying through the air. Since your mind and body isn’t right, you have no idea if you’re going to land on your feet and win gold or land on your head/neck and be paralyzed. (Answer: The high risk does not outweigh the reward. This is stupid, not gritty)

If you’re working on a big project at work set to launch next month and you need to work extra hours and put in extra effort to get it across the finish line in a way you’re proud of. (Answer: This is grit. Given the short-term nature of this and given that it’s connected to one project/goal. Though make sure to program in time to restore after the launch)

If you’re working 60-80 hours a week on who even knows what because the implicit expectation is that you’ll get promoted. Hobbies, friends, and sanity seem to have faded away. (Answer: Stupid. You’re working too much in a way that’s not connected to a specific goal and the way to get what you’re pursuing isn’t defined or guaranteed.)

Stupid grit vs. authentic grit

If you’re looking for clear distinction between these two, psychologist Caroline Adams Miller uses the terms ‘stupid grit’ and ‘authentic grit.’

She defines stupid grit as pushing through to the detriment of yourself or others. Whereas, authentic grit is “The passionate pursuit of hard goals that causes one to emotionally flourish, take positive risks, live without regret, and awe and inspire others.”

So, all this to say, absolutely pursue hard goals. But give yourself time to see them through and listen to your body when it needs to pause or slow on the path to accomplishing the goal.

It’s not gritty to push through when your body or mind is injured or approaching injury, it’s stupid.

At a sustainable pace,


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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