…That is the question. And no, I’m not asking if you’ve shaved today or how abrasive your personality is. I mean how much resolve and strength of character do you exhibit day in and day out when you endure a steady stream of setbacks in pursuit of a long-term goal?

University of Pennsylvania psychology researcher Angela Lee Duckworth has dedicated her career to finding out who and why some people are gritty. According to her findings, those who exhibit the most grit are more likely to succeed than those with natural-born talent, higher IQs, and who come from higher-income families. That is to say, regardless of your career choice, grit is a stronger indicator of success than talent.

What is grit in the world of acting? Grit is spilling your coffee on your shirt and immediately afterwards giving it your best in the audition room. Grit is getting your class performance torn down by your acting instructor, and coming back for more the next week with a heightened sense of purpose. Grit is eating ramen noodles so you can afford the bus fare to your next audition. Grit is baring repeated lectures from your parents to quit on your acting-dream nonsense and get a “real job.”

It’s often believed that those with the most talent will be the ones who land the leading roles and bring in the bigger paychecks. After all, who would prefer to watch an unskilled actor over one who exudes talent? But taking Duckworth’s findings into account, maybe it’s not such a good idea to rely too heavily on talent. Remember, talent is not a static phenomenon; people can and do improve. (Athletes know this all too well.) An unskilled actor today who is passionate, works hard, is driven to improve, and perseveres is a formidable thespian competitor indeed!

Duckworth has received almost five million hits for her Ted Talk titled The Key to Success? Grit. She and her fellow researchers also have posted a 12-Item Grit test. If you find you score lower than you hope, don’t despair because grit levels have been known to change over time. Grit is something you can make a conscious decision to improve upon. You can tell yourself you are going to be grittier, more determined, more hard working, and more resilient–and then expect it of yourself. If you are earnest, you can make a change. It really is up to you.

Do you have an actor grit story you’d like to share?

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