I’ve come into contact lately with several people who are interested in Grit. In fact, one woman who participated in my Professional Women’s Workshop was even pursuing her Master’s degree using the study of Grit as demonstrated by Opera singers. One definition describes Grit as: “… a positive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.”
This got my attention – the world of performing demands the ability to feed the engines of one’s interests and passions, to continually practice techniques in order to achieve mastery in one’s craft, and to be able to follow through on a plan of action towards success in a career where continual rejection may be probable, and the pay-off for your efforts may not be realized for years down the road. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cited a study where it was calculated that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of one’s craft. And when I think of performers who have achieved some measure of greatness, they certainly have spent that amount of time or more honing their abilities.
So, when I saw Angela Duckworth’s book: Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance, I couldn’t resist picking it up. It’s a great read – and I’m still in the midst of it – but a few key points have rung true for me. She writes about how talent is helpful, but it must be combined with effort. Her equation to get from talent to achievement is: talent x effort = skill; and skill x effort = achievement. I see this all the time – there are often students in my classes who I think are really brilliant with loads of innate talent – but when I check in with the class 5 years later, it is often the actors who had some talent, but also a plan of action, an organized approach and a less sensitive skin for criticism that have built a career. Angela Duckworth also speaks of four psychological assets that people who have grit have in common: interest or passion; daily discipline or practice; purpose or a sense that your work matters; and finally – hope and the ability to keep going even when times are difficult.
Often when I teach my voice and text classes, the issue of “ownership” comes up. To me the willingness to tap into something real, and reveal it freely, is essential to finding your voice. Who am I in my life right now? Can I find the desire to communicate, and the passion and relevance in what I am saying in this moment? How fully can I “own” my message? Can my desire to communicate it be greater than the ingrained mental/emotional censors that habitually want to inhibit me? So much of the work that I teach is about getting out of our own way and allowing the thought/feeling impulse in us that wants to speak to have a voice. This often means being able to move beyond whatever it is that might make me uncomfortable in this moment, in order to serve a clear purpose. And after I’ve found my voice, then I need to have the patience and interest to follow through – to refine my thought, and to bring greater freedom and clarity to how I say this thing that wants to be expressed – whether it is in my public speaking, or as an actor through my character’s voice serving the demands of a play.
In her book Angela Duckworth quotes Nietzsche: Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness…They all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.”
In a way I feel this when I lead my actors in their warm-ups before rehearsals or performances of a play. The discipline and tactile pleasure of stretching and elasticizing one’s body, of freeing the breath, and gathering the resonance of the sound vibrations in the bony hollows of the body; of undoing specific tensions in the jaw, tongue and larynx; and waking up the sweep of one’s vocal range, and engaging the lively economy of the articulators; may seem on one level as the routine of little actions, or the “nuts and bolts” that make up part of an actor’s craft, but on a deeper level it is carving out time and space in our busy day to meet ourselves – to be present in our whole being. The daily routine leads to a greater consciousness, and connects me to my place in this world.