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What If You Have No Grit?


What If You Have No Grit_350If you are a parent, you probably heard about “grit.” Grit is the ability to keep going when things get tough. Studies have shown that grit is a huge factor in succeeding in life. Today, grit has replaced self-esteem as the primary desirable character trait. Having self-esteem is good, but it has to be earned. We’re not building self-esteem correctly when we hand out trophies to every kid who participates in an event. This kind of coddling builds inflated egos and the result is young adults who can’t handle adversity. Let’s face it, life isn’t fair. The sooner kids learn this, the sooner they will be able to adapt and figure out how to overcome real challenges.

*This post was originally written in 2016. It’s updated now.

Of course, small children have no grit at all. When our son was 5 years old and he broke down in tears pretty often*. He is still young, but he is also growing up so fast. We’ll help him develop his resiliency as he gets older by giving him different challenges and responsibilities. Also, we need to avoid being helicopter parents and let him overcome his own obstacles. The problem is that kids from stable families usually don’t have a lot of opportunities to develop resilience. Well-to-do parents tend to make life too easy for the kids and in turn, they don’t develop any grit. Just today, I overheard a young college student bragging to her friends about going to class just once a week even though she is scheduled for a full load. I would blow my top if I ever heard RB40Jr say that. Man, what a waste of time and opportunity, not to mention the cost of tuition. If I was that young student’s parent, I’d cash out her 529 account and splurge on a trip around the world. If you’re going to screw around, you can pay for your own education.

*RB40Jr is 9 now and he’s a lot tougher. He still cries once in a while but a lot less often than when he was young.

No Grit

Life has been quite good since I retired in 2012. In fact, it has been so cushy that I am losing my own grit. I just retook the grit test (link at the bottom) and got 3.25. This is a steep drop from 4.13 when I took the test in 2009. There just haven’t been any big challenges and I’m happy with a comfortable life now. A crisis is inevitable, though. There will be some big challenges in the future. Hopefully, I will retain enough grit to overcome them. I suppose my grit level will build back up when I face some serious challenges.

Mrs. RB40’s score is 3.5, up from 2.88 the last time she took the grit test. She has been facing more challenges at work and she has to be tougher because she’s the primary breadwinner now.

That’s the problem with living a comfortable life. It’s good now, but you might not be able to handle future hardship. Kids who grew up in a difficult environment can handle adversity much better than kids who had everything handed to them. That’s why parents need to resist the urge to swoop in and solve the kids’ problems for them. Those parents are depriving the kids of valuable learning opportunities. We all need to fail occasionally and learn from our mistakes. I guess both Jr. and I need some challenging goals to keep life interesting.

Do you think a comfortable life makes you soft?

2020 update

I retook the grit test and I got 3.40. That’s similar to my old score, 3.25. The whole country is going through a crisis right now. Covid-19 is raging out of control, the economy is in shamble, millions are unemployed, and our government has lost all credibility. 2020 is a tough year for all of us.

Fortunately, we prepared well and we can handle it. Now, I think good preparation is even more important than having grit. We saved up, lived modestly, and can get through this crisis with minimal impact. That’s better than being unprepared and having a lot of grit, IMO. Well, both are important. So prepare for the worst and toughen up. 😉

Grit test

Take the grit test. This will only take a minute.

Book Reading List:

Image by Peter Mooney

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

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{ 50 comments… add one }
  • JeffD August 10, 2020, 1:53 am

    I think grit is having the qualities of stubbornness and independence without the quality of stubborn independence.

  • Paul @ Screen Time Project July 28, 2020, 12:19 pm

    I think this is in the top tier of hardest characteristics to teach your kids. You want to give them the best opportunities, more so than yourself, however I believe at the same time the more you hand to them, the harder it becomes for them when it is up to them.

  • GYM July 25, 2020, 11:44 pm

    Such a timely post, Joe! My husband ordered a book online for my son (he’s almost 3) called “The Gritty Ninja”. It’s pretty good, teaches kids about grit. Our son needs a bit more grit 🙂 He got a new-used scooter and he was giving up on riding it because it was not as easy as his balance bike. After us reading that book a few times, he seemed to have a lightbulb moment and he’s back on the scooter asking to ride that instead of his bike.

    Thanks for sharing the grit test- I scored 3.9. I think I could be grittier.

    As we know, having grit is a better determinant of success than book smarts.

  • WTK July 25, 2020, 9:05 pm

    Hi Joe,

    My view that the grit will be applicable for things which matters most and are of high importance to one. The full-time employment (in which one may have to take in view of certain reasons due to high remuneration in order to achieve FI asap) may not be applicable in term of this test given that one may not like the nature of the full-time employment (not of one’s interest) as it tend to give a low score given one’s lack of interest and focusing on achievement of FI asap.

    I have taken the test now and note to have achieve the score of 4.25. I also takes the test on the assumption of having the full time employment and realise that I score a miserly score of 2.40. These two tests emphasise on the importance of doing the things of one’s interest and high grit score is evident in things of my interest as per my perspective.

    My two cents worth of views.


  • FITrailHiker July 25, 2020, 11:49 am

    I guess I am having grit to save and invest side. But loosing grit for career advancement like taking higher paying but stressful roles.
    After start pursuing FIRE I can feel loss of grit on career side. I used to be quite ambitious careerwise ?

  • Papa Foxtrot July 25, 2020, 5:33 am

    I find grit important, but I believe the idea of focusing on your current goal is an inch away from being single minded. What I like to think of is to make a higher goal that centers around a specialty or passion you have. The goal may eventually shift because in case no one noticed the world is constantly changing.

    For instance, over the last 2 years I have had 4 business ideas. I discarded two of them because the overhead would be large and there is too much supply to just start a business like these others and expect to make anything truly brand worthy. But eventually I found two that I am still impassioned for and as far as I know I may be the only person who thought of one of them. Do I score less on grit because I decided some certain ideas are not worth pursuing over another when truth is at most you should have only a few goals you are ACTUALLY putting effort towards? Many would argue yes I should score lower on grit because I am no longer pursuing previous ideas, but I also think goals are meant to be dynamic.

    It’s a complicated topic and truth is psychologists and specialists still argue over whether having infallible grit is good.

  • drplastickpicker July 25, 2020, 4:30 am

    Hi Joe! That was a great article. I must have missed this series of post a while ago. I’m going to read Angela Duckworth’s stuff. I got 5!!!

  • Lazy Man and Money July 24, 2020, 4:34 am

    I got a 1.40 on the grit score. I know I had no grit, which I suppose is on-brand. Like you said at the end though, preparation can take you a long way. Intelligence and luck can also help. Sometimes you have to make up missing attributes in other areas. Or maybe the other areas are why I have no grit.

    I just started reading The Formula (Unlocking The Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children) which has a prominent testimonial from Angela Duckworth. It’s written by a guy invoking Harvard and so far it isn’t very good. I will keep giving it a shot in hopes that it actually gets better.

    All of this research has been aimed at getting a new website going, but so far the lack of grit has knocked me back down time and again.

  • Steveark July 23, 2020, 12:32 pm

    I don’t think that test is very accurate. I’m one of the laziest guys I know yet I scored a 4.40 on the test? I was gifted in my field and my natural talent carried me past my competition, it had nothing to do with gritty hard work. I did take up distance running in my late 40’s, running 15 marathon races. I did that to try to develop some grit, because everything had come so easily to me. Didn’t really help, I’m still lazy, and retired.

    • retirebyforty July 23, 2020, 6:42 pm

      I think natural talent and preparation are just as important as grit. Isn’t it better to avoid having to grit through these tough situations? If things came easy, that means you’re successful.

  • freddy smidlap July 23, 2020, 6:47 am

    you wanna cry? i’ll give you something to cry about. that was the parenting style when i was young and the same for most of my friends. i look at today’s young adults and see a lack of grit. for me it shines through in this health crisis with all the various inconveniences piled onto peoples’ lives. a few bad work days or getting yelled at by a boss doesn’t always mean a “toxic” culture. work sucks but they pay you to tolerate it…or don’t.

  • Adam July 23, 2020, 6:06 am

    Heh… I scored a 3.2 and am just fine with that. I run 5km every other morning, but yesterday it was 82° and humid at 6:30am so I bailed with 1.5km to go. What would I have accomplished by suffering more or getting sick? No thank you. Today happens to make 13 years at a job that occasionally presents mild-to-moderate challenges but is 90%+ routine; I love it.

    Fortunately my wife is incredibly stubborn. I often stumble across possibilities that her single-minded focus might have missed and she keeps me driven when I would otherwise get distracted. It’s been a process that required a lot of love and respect and adaptation, but we function well as a team.

  • Mr. TPM July 23, 2020, 5:09 am

    Being raised in a low/middle class family, I had two choices. Stay in the same boring town, do the same things or invest in myself and break from of the cycle of so many friends. I chose the latter.
    Now raising little kids, their story is quite different. They know more than one little town. Our schools are closed indefinitely. They are missing the competitiveness of having peers in their class. I fear all this wasted time at home will make the next generation soft. I do my part now as an educator to kids, but they benefit greatly developing grit from an in classroom experience.

  • Mark July 11, 2017, 6:20 pm

    I was going to take the grit test, but when I saw it was a PDF, I gave up. #nogrit

  • Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree April 28, 2016, 7:27 am

    I think grit is so important to daily life. I an individual can’t handle little obstacles that are thrown in their way then they are going to struggle throughout their whole lives. Although I don’t have my own children I do believe that helicopter parents are doing their kids a great disservice by not allowing their kids to fail. Failure is how we learn and get better. I do Spartan Obstacle races and the philosophy behind Spartan is that if you can overcome the obstacles you encounter in the race then little obstacles in life should be easy in comparison. Learn, grow stronger, and you will succeed in whatever you do.

  • Our Next Life April 12, 2016, 8:51 pm

    I’m a huge believer in grit, and I wish more people these days had it. But I also think it’s fluid and relative. Just for fun, I took the quiz twice, answering once with my current work self, and once with the self that works on the things I care about. Work self got 2.5, “my stuff” self got 4.0. So, a few lessons: I need to get more grit for my home stretch at work — ha! And I’ll be more gritty come retirement, unless I get soft, like you suggested could happen. Good to know to watch out for that!

  • Felipe April 12, 2016, 6:51 am

    Great article and a great topic to consider if you’re comfortable enough financially to retire early. I’m 52 and still got 4.4, and I think my life’s pretty easy. Purchasing a house that needed major rehab a few years ago, doing the work ourselves while still working full time desk jobs, I think helped renew my grit. I also find Central American travel outside cities(for work) renews my grit. Uncomfortable, being alert for security concerns – that’ll keep your edge. Nice topic. Thank you!

  • Dividendsdownunder April 8, 2016, 9:13 pm

    Hi Joe,

    This hugely speaks to me. Seeing kids get everything handed to them (particularly those rich kid instagram accounts who haven’t done anything to show off what they’re showing off) is extremely off-putting with those people. Giving a kid everything for nothing is the worst way to bring them up because that’s then how they see the world. They become selfish, self-obsessed and they will never find true happiness within themselves because they haven’t ‘made’ anything for themselves.

    Love and grit are funny characteristics that you’d think are incompatible for parents and kids but you can give your kids a huge loving gift, by raising them to be determined. It is the opposite of love to make them ill-prepared for the world out there, unless they’re going to live at home for the rest of their life. My parents took that approach with my sister, she doesn’t have any grit and doesn’t want to achieve anything for herself (in her 30s now still at home).

    As for us personally, my wife and I have been through a lot of life events already. We started off as a long distance relationship when I was 19 living in England, she was 18 living in Australia. Using the money we saved earning from our jobs, we made several trips/visits happen for 2 1/2 years. Then, I moved to Australia at 21 years old. (having proposed to Jasmin 🙂 and applied for a visa to live in Australia during that 2 1/2 year period). We got married a few months later 🙂

    Then we did what every young married couple do; decided we wanted to have a baby. After a (unsuccessful) year trying, it turns out we need IVF to have kids. It’s almost been another year since we found out, but we’re going to be doing the IVF cycles really soon. Nearly everyone tells us we’re ‘really young’ (24 and 23) to be doing IVF. We just want a baby and will do what it takes to get one (and then another after this one 🙂 2 is the aim).
    So without going into our childhood, we’ve had a fair bit of grit over the last few years.

    In December 2015 we launched http://www.DividendsDownUnder.com (as the name suggests) it’s an investing / personal finance blog and follows our IVF journey too. IVF has a huge impact on our finances. We want to achieve financial independence (from a 9 – 5 job) as early as we can. Why live life in a way you don’t want to, when the life you want to live is achievable and within reach. It just takes a bit (a lot) of hard work (grit), smart decisions, patience and persistence.

    We did the grit test, I got 4.5 and Jasmin got 4.0 (she’s too modest with her answers).


    • retirebyforty April 9, 2016, 8:20 am

      Thanks for sharing your story. Good luck with the IVF. I also think you’re too young to do the IVF, but you have to live your own life. Sometime you just have to ignore the noise. Good luck!

  • Robb April 8, 2016, 12:43 pm

    I could not agree more with the participation trophy’s for everyone. Let’s teach our younger generations that life is not a bowl of cherries and you have to work to achieve great things. I see it all the time at our local schools. In the state of Minnesota every high school football team makes the “Playoffs”.

    • retirebyforty April 9, 2016, 8:17 am

      Right, not everyone is the winner all the time. You have to work hard to win a tournament. Giving out participation trophy doesn’t help anyone.

  • Jason in Vancouver April 8, 2016, 12:32 pm

    Grit seems to be the business buzzword nowadays. I hear it being used all other the place; in meetings and presentations.
    Overall, I think I’m pretty soft, particularly compared to my parents. But I think I mix that in with a bit of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. I figure I’d go really go soft in retirement.
    That’s why I’m paranoid about having enough money before giving up a regular paycheck. I’m not sure how well I’d handle it if things turned south. I know we wouldn’t go hungry but hate the risk of needing to lowering our standard of living.

    • retirebyforty April 9, 2016, 8:17 am

      Heh heh, I guess I got out before it became a buzz word.

  • Clint April 8, 2016, 10:37 am

    Joe, I love the fact that you wrote this article. The youth I come into contact with are soft because their parents make it easy for them all the time. If you want RB40 jr. to develop grit you have to let him cry now otherwise he will end up the whiny kid at school that gets picked on…or worse the whiny adult no one likes!

    I know you can do it Joe! Be firm. Maybe show him an example of when you did something that was unpleasant like working out, and explain it was to stay healthy for him. Tell him when he cries that won’t solve the problem and don’t help or give in until he stops. (Trust me, he will get tired).

    As for your own grit, I’m calling you out right now to start setting more challenging workout goals. I want you around for a long time man because I like reading your posts.

    YOU CAN DO IT!!!!

    • Pennypincher April 9, 2016, 3:22 am

      If you talk w/any good teacher they will tell you that kids, boys and girls, cry easily, then it tapers off around the 6th grade (I know! It takes a while.) I think crying is a far better way to let off steam than being angry/causing trouble. Notice how they (kids, everyone!) always feel better after a good cry. Let them cry it out.
      Interesting how the latest researchers say that you should comfort your child when they are upset. That this teaches them to eventually ‘self-comfort’ and that this skill serves them well throughout life. They come to learn that they can get through a tough time, come out the other end ok, and be stronger for it. Makes sense to me! Sounds like grit.

      • Clint April 13, 2016, 9:44 am

        Right on Pennypincher, let them cry it out. It really does work. I’ll probably leave the comfort part to my wife though, she is much better at that than I.

  • James April 8, 2016, 9:28 am

    There’s an expression, “to retire is to expire” since most people will soon lose the desire and the drive to achieve something. Unfortunately most people just aren’t that self motivated to achieve something without the daily structure that a full time job or school requires. There’s no grit and perseverance when someone is just comfortable with status quo instead of setting lofty goals. Good luck in finding some new goals soon and don’t get too comfortable.

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:18 am

      I don’t agree. I think a lot of people are self motivated. Although, you maybe right about retire. Self motivated people probably would start a new project and don’t think of themselves as retired.
      I think a lot people are in a status quo at their job. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ramona April 8, 2016, 9:06 am

    As an orphan (abandoned by mother and raised by father and his parents) and a poor kid, I’ve always been VERY determined. I am happy to see that my daughter, although just 2 years old and having everything she needs at her disposal is also extremely determined to succeed in anything she puts her mind to. It will make her life easier, since it allows you to achieve some pretty great things that require work and determination.

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:16 am

      That’s interesting about your daughter. Maybe grit is an inherited trait? Although, I’m not sure if you can tell with 2 years old. They are too young. Thank you for sharing.

  • Ryan April 8, 2016, 8:37 am

    Appreciate your perspective on not only finances, but also human behavior – in posts like this one. Thanks for the blog.

  • ChrisCD (@jumbocds) April 8, 2016, 8:00 am

    I disagree on young kids not being able to have Grit. Some have to develop because of circumstances, others have it naturally, and others have it developed by being put in age appropriate situations that push them.

    Grit is obtained when you have the mindset that you will not shrink from obstacles, but will tackle them. Grit is obtained when you are willing to push beyond your current limits to obtain various goals and objectives. Fox will be airing a new show that looks to help folks accomplish this. :O)

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:15 am

      Hmm… All the little kids I know doesn’t have any grit. They are all pretty well to do, though.
      I don’t think grit comes naturally. You have to nurture it. What’s the show?

      • Nicoleandmaggie April 10, 2016, 5:03 pm

        My daughter has always had a lot. She is 3. Extremely tenacious even as an infant.

        • nicoleandmaggie July 23, 2020, 8:26 am

          She seems to have a bit less now as an almost-eight year old. :/ Or maybe she’s just gotten better at getting other people to do hard things for her so she has more time for easy fun stuff.

      • ChrisCD (@jumbocds) April 11, 2016, 6:38 am

        American Grit on Fox is the show. cd :O)

  • Getting To One Million April 8, 2016, 6:36 am

    I guess maybe I lost my grit when I decided to not climb the corporate ladder and remain a secretary for the past 20 years with the same company. I don’t have any work pressure and live comfortably on 47% of my before tax income so I don’t worry about “scraping” by.

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:13 am

      I think that’s okay too. If you don’t have a lot of grit, you have to focus on minimizing crisis. Setting yourself up financially is a great way to go. That’s what we’re doing too. Life is much smoother if you’re financially secure.

  • The Green Swan April 8, 2016, 5:52 am

    You blew my mind again, Joe. I never really thought of the prospect of losing grit once I retire early, but it is a good point. I can see how that could happen. I’m still driving hard right now which requires a lot of grit. Working hard in the corporate world while recently starting my own blog and finishing up my book. There have definitely been a lot of obstacles to push through. And just like you, I’m raising a little one (2 years) and need to remind myself that I can’t be there to coddle him all the time and he too will need to develop grit. Thanks for the post!

    The Green Swan @ thegreenswan.org

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:12 am

      Good luck with everything. There are a lot on your plate right now. I bet your grit score would be 4+. 🙂

  • Jim @ Route To Retire April 8, 2016, 5:43 am

    It’s actually nice to hear the “downsides” to early retirement since I’m guessing it can’t all be a bed of roses.

    I’m very focused at the financial freedom goal right now so I think that really helped my score on the grit test. I got a 4.08 but right now I have a lot of hustle to make things happen.

    My daughter is a pretty solid reason why I push so hard right now. Do you think if you didn’t have your son right now that your grit number would be higher or lower?

    — Jim

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:11 am

      Nice score with the grit test!
      I’m sure you will relax a bit once you retired.
      If I don’t have a son, my grit number would be lower. I could just do whatever I want with no responsibility.

  • Mike Drak April 8, 2016, 5:09 am

    I became soft while working in the corporate world. I was in full blown survivor mode not taking any chances, taking orders, following the herd just trying to provide for my family. Once I reached FI things changed but it was hard for me to transition from a surviving mentality to a thriving mentality. Now I’m doing things completely out of my comfort zone writing a book, public speaking, creating my own website and blog. It sure takes a lot of grit to get it all done but it’s nice to stretch try new things and see how far you can go. For me that’s what makes life interesting and while it’s hard work I’m having a ball!

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 10:05 am

      I love your story. It shows that there are many benefits to FI. You don’t have to quit working once you’re there. Looking forward to your book and websites. Public speaking sounds like a good challenge. It has been my goal for a long time, but I haven’t dedicate any time to it…

  • Pennypincher April 8, 2016, 4:46 am

    How can anyone live in this country and not have grit? It is not easy to live here. Just ask the new immigrants that have arrived. Parents model it for their children. It’s probably the best way. They watch everything we do.
    When RB40jr grows up, and is independent and on his own, you will find ‘backing off’ and not worrying about them (offspring) so much makes everyone much happier. Works for me!

    • Pennypincher April 8, 2016, 4:53 am

      PS-my head is still spinning over that last post on Roth conversions-ha,ha! Advisors and accountants say pay taxes now or pay later w/or without a Roth conversion. Love that thought of no RMD (required minimum distribution) on a Roth though! Sorry bring it up.

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 7:45 am

      I don’t know… Life here is relatively easy.
      I’m backing off more now and he seems to be fine. I started reading the Free Range Kids site. Pretty interesting. Let kid grow up more independently.

  • Apathy Ends April 8, 2016, 4:37 am

    Used to hear the same thing at college, almost always by students with parents covering their tuition. I remember telling my future wife that I would only help our future kids out with school if they could prove they weren’t wasting money.

    If you have always had a comfortable life, it could make you soft. People that worked hard to earn it, the grit is still somewhere – it just hasn’t been woken up in awhile.

    • retirebyforty April 8, 2016, 7:43 am

      Yeah, I bet she wasn’t paying her own way. She’d appreciate it more if she was working to pay for it. Her comment made me mad.
      Not sure about the grit still being somewhere. It might disappear entirely if life is too comfortable for too long. It’s probably better to keep challenging yourself once in a while.

      • Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes April 8, 2016, 2:40 pm

        You’d be surprised how common that behavior is amongst college students. This is why I’m not big on giving my boy’s a free ride. Just because we’re financially independent doesn’t mean they get a ride on easy street (or lazy street). They have to have enough grit to make it happen themselves.
        If they can graduate with good scores and learn some productive skills (all while working their way through college), I may end up being charitable and pay off their loans.

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