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The Importance of Having a Life Philosophy

In my mind’s eye, chapter 4, “How Gritty are You?” is by far the most insightful chapter yet of Grit, by Dr. Angela Duckworth. In this section of the book, we hear ever more entertaining examples of grit. (I wish I could include them here, but will leave them for you to discover yourself.) Dr. Duckworth also introduces the 10-question Grit Scale, which many of you have already taken. (If not, you may do so here.) But the most insight from this chapter comes when Dr. D begins talking about the meaning of passion.

For many, the word passion is synonymous with intensity. However, much like fireworks, such intensity burns brightly, then fizzles shortly thereafter. To be successful at anything requires passion of another kind altogether, a consistency over time. Such consistency is difficult to achieve however in our modern life. We are pulled in too many directions by external enticements, and even more so by our internal distractions.

To focus our attention and effort, Dr. Duckworth encourages us to adopt advice taken from Pete Carroll, the legendary NFL football coach. He encourages his players to have a life philosophy, one that will act as a compass to help them make important decisions, big and small. To understand our own philosophy, she lays out a method prescribed by the billionaire Warren Buffett, then adds one final step. They are outlined below:

This activity forces us to separate the wheat from the chaff. You may feel, like Dr. Duckworth, that it’s outrageous to think of anyone having 25 career goals. However, she then sat down to do this activity. “When I got to line thirty-two,” she says, “I realized I could benefit from this exercise.”

We may have a philosophy for our entire life, but more likely than not we have philosophies for differing parts of our lives. For example, Dr. Duckworth’s work philosophy is to “use psychological science to help kids thrive.” She has a separate life philosophy for outside of work, to be the best mother she can be to her two daughters.

The life philosophy that we decide upon is our life’s end goal. Perhaps you could even call it our life’s meaning. The other goals in our life are merely a mean’s to that end. These goals can be arranged in a hierarchy, much like the one drawn in Dr. Duckworth’s book. Grit is required in the pursuit of that end goal, our life philosophy. Over time, we may realize that we have to be flexible with some of our lesser goals, perhaps abandoning them altogether.

While reading the chapter, I felt inspired to pause and reflect on my own life/professional philosophy. I ended up writing down the following: “To contribute to world peace by helping people find clarity and meaning in life, to develop greater self-acceptance and a love for others, and to see that we all are wonderfully much more than we appear to be.” Grandiose it is, but you can see how this overall life philosophy is supported by the lesser goal of being a life coach. You can see, too, how the goal of writing this article fits into this as well. Finally, my top and mid-level goals motivated me to read Dr. D’s book, one of my low-level goals.

The more our goal hierarchy is aligned, the more likely it is we will be gritty. We may find that some of our goals are misaligned. This doesn’t mean we need to chuck them. However, this pause may cause us to reevaluate the priority we give that goal.

Finally, our life and career goals may, at times, conflict with each other. “As any working parent knows,” Dr. D says, “having two ‘ultimate concerns’ isn’t easy.” She adds, however, “I’ve decided to live with that tension.” There wasn’t a morally right decision, she says, just a “decision that was right for me.”

I’d encourage you to find some time this week to contemplate your own life philosophy. Doing so will leave you better informed where to put forth greater effort in life, and where to hold back. You may feel inspired too by this activity due to the sense of clarity it may provide as it highlights the great meaning that often lies hidden within all of our lives.

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