The Relentless Perseverance of the World's Best Performers

In the summer of 1990, Joanne Rowling – better known as J.K. Rowling – was on a train from Manchester to London when suddenly an idea popped into her head.

“I saw Harry! I could see him very clearly - this scrawny little boy. And it was the most physical rush of excitement. I’ve never felt that physical reaction to anything about writing before.” [1]

14 years later, J.K. Rowling became the first billionaire author, ever!

But her journey from that train - when Harry Potter was a simple idea - to him being an international icon, was far from easy.

For the next 7 years of her life, J.K. Rowling was in a constant struggle. She had a child, followed by a messy divorce in Portugal. Then she moved to Edinburgh, Scotland and lived as poorly as you possibly could without actually being homeless.

She dealt with doubt, fear and even clinical depression. She was living a harsh life and was constantly told by both publishers and peers that children's books like Harry Potter simply were not "marketable" anymore.

“There were some days that I was so depressed that I could not even bring myself to write. And the only pleasure I found in life was when I was writing! So you can imagine just how depressed I was." 

Yet despite her depression, despite her poverty, and despite her relatively small chance of success, J.K. Rolling didn’t quit. She wrote and wrote and wrote until finally Harry Potter hit the shelves and became an international sensation. And turned J.K. Rowling into a billionaire.


This relentless perseverance is not just a trait held by J.K. Rowling. When we take a look at the top performers in any field, we can see countless examples of them overcoming great odds in pursuit of one very specific goal.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, was born in the housing projects in Brooklyn and had to work tirelessly in order to afford college. Then when he was trying to get Starbucks off the ground, he spent an entire year getting rejected by over 200 investors who did not believe that people would buy a $4 coffee. [2]

At his first ever basketball camp as a 12 year-old, Kobe Bryant didn’t score a single point. Not one. But that motivated him to practice harder and outwork everyone for the rest of his life. And for his entire NBA career, he was always known as the hardest worker in the league. [3]

There are countless other examples, but wherever you find a truly great performer, you will find this relentless perseverance - or as psychologists call it "grit".


We tend to believe that factors outside of ourselves play the key role in our success. Factors like IQ, household incomes, or the prestige of school we’ve attended, etc. But in 2009, Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that these factors didn't matter nearly as much as something she called "grit". [4] 

Grit, as Duckworth describes it, is passion and perseverance towards a very long-term goal. It’s the determination to continue working despite what obstacles you face along the way.

No matter what the field, grit showed up as the top factor in success. She looked at education, sales teams, the national spelling bee and even West Point Military Academy, and the best performers were always the grittiest. [5]

Grit is what J.K. Rowling had when she would not stop writing her book. Grit is what Howard Schultz had when he would not stop pitching his business, and grit is what Kobe Bryant had when he would not stop practicing his basketball skills. No matter what the domain, grit is a proven factor of success.


At this point you may be thinking, “okay I get the point of the article. In order to have success, I need to work as hard as those top performers.” 

But hard work itself is not the distinguishing factor of grit. There are a lot of very hard workers that do not reach the level of success of J.K. Rowling or Kobe Bryant.

So what is it that distinguishes grit?

Grit is having the ability to dream big and the discipline to do what it takes to make it happen. It is having both the vision of how big Starbucks will one day become and the willpower to reach out to another investor after over 200 have told you “no”. 

But, grit is also about focus. J.K. Rowling didn’t spend her years of poverty writing 3 different books. She was focused solely on Harry Potter. Kobe Bryant didn’t spend his practice hours playing football and baseball. He was focused solely on basketball. 

So to become truly gritty, you must find that very specific long-term goal that drives so much passion out of you that you are willing to endure the pain that it will take to get there. If you have not found that thing, simply open your mind and begin the search. Then, once you find it, pursue it with relentless perseverance.


When I found out about the concept of grit, I had to take a life assessment. 

Was I truly gritty?

I was doing work as a marketing consultant at the time. On the side, I was reading up on willpower science and also doing obstacle course racing at a competitive, but far from world-class, level.

I then looked at those who were the truly gritty people in each field. I saw those who were achieving greatness because they were so focused and dedicated to becoming the best.

I realized that if I continued down the path that I was on, then I would become good at marketing, good at willpower science and good at obstacle-course racing – but not great at any of them.  

So I decided that I was going to dedicate myself to the thing that I had spent my free time studying and implementing over the past 4 years. So I quit my job and dedicated myself to learning the science behind willpower - then sharing it with as many people as I could.

5 months after I made that decision, I had my own rock-bottom moment. I had only 30-days left of cash to survive and Willpowered had not yet got to a point where I could make enough money to live off of it.

I had a choice to make. I had to either give up and go back to living my disciplined, but unfocused, life. Or I could be gritty and see this thing through to the finish. I chose to be gritty. The result – I wrote an article that blew up and drove the traffic I needed to make this blog into a living.


Top performers in any field all have a relentless perseverance towards a very specific goal. They are utterly focused and driven to succeed no matter what the circumstances are. They are gritty. 

No matter what your passion, you too can become gritty. But it first starts with finding that thing that you are so passionate about that you are willing to endure the pain. So, the question is, what will you be gritty for?


  1. BBC Arts. (2002). J.K. Rowling Biography.
  2. Schultz, H., & Yang, D. (1997). Pour your heart into it: How Starbucks built a company one cup at a time. New York, NY: Hyperion.
  3. Bryant, K. (2014, December 15). Zero | by Kobe Bryant.
  4. Duckworth, Angela L. "The Key To Success? Grit." Ted Talks. New York. Apr. 2013. Speech.
  5. Duckworth, A. L., T. A. Kirby, E. Tsukayama, H. Berstein, and K. A. Ericsson. "Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee." Social Psychological and Personality Science 2.2 (2011): 174-81.