Grit has been shown to predict success in several domains such as West Point summer program completion, National Spelling Bee placement, and educational attainment (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007), but had not yet been studied within the career context. Having a successful career can provide meaning, identity, and life satisfaction (Erdogan, Bauer, Truxillo, & Mansfield, 2012; Forest, Mageau, Sarrazin, & Morin, 2011; Kram, Wasserman, & Yip, 2012). This sequential explanatory mixed methods study examined whether grit predicted career success, and explored the role of grit in career success for gritty, successful working adults. Positive psychology (Seligman & Csiksentmihalyi, 2000) was used as a theoretical framework to guide the topic of study, selection of participants for the qualitative phase, and to create start-up codes in the qualitative analysis. Self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) was used to frame the study of grit and social cognitive career theory (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) was used to frame the study of career success.
Participants in the quantitative phase included 423 working adults. Quantitative data sources included scores on the Short Grit Scale (Grit-S) (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009), the Career Satisfaction Scale (CSS) (Greenhaus, Parasuraman, & Wormley, 1990), a researcher-created Career Status measure, and Salary information. Data were analyzed using correlational analysis, independent samples t-test, one-way ANOVA, and multiple regression. The correlational analysis showed that in this study, grit did not significantly predict career success. Level of grit did not differ based on gender or occupational type (traditional, non-standard, or mix). Multiple regressions demonstrated that grit did not significantly add to any of the models using age and gender as covariates.
Participants in the qualitative phase included 5 individuals from the quantitative phase who scored in the top quartile in grit and career success. The qualitative data sources were individual interviews, which were transcribed and analyzed by the author. Data were analyzed inductively using pattern codes and deductively using the theoretical frameworks. Case summaries were written for each participant in the qualitative phase, and major themes were illustrated visually in several models. Findings suggest that although gritty, successful participants perceived grit as necessary for their own career success, they did not think it was sufficient. Largely perceived as “strong work ethic” or “working hard,” grit manifested differently in individual workplaces. Perseverance seemed more relevant to the career success experience than passion, and the aspect of working toward long-term goals did not resonate with these participants in the career context. Implications for this study include considering the importance of networking and taking advantage of opportunities in career development, on top of a strong work ethic. Schools interested in adding grit to their character strengths curriculum may find these results of interest, as the findings from this study indicate a non-significant relationship between grit and career success, salary, and career status.