It took Jeff Bezos 25 years to go from a bootstrapping entrepreneur to the world's richest person. But it took his parents longer than that to instill the characteristics for success into their son. 

Jeff's step-dad, Miguel Bezos, landed in the U.S. in 1962 as a kid straight out of Castro's Cuba, as reported by CNBC. He had just turned 16 years old and carried only three shirts, three pants, three changes of underwear, and a single pair of shoes. He didn't speak one word of English. 

After a few years of getting an education and starting his work life, Miguel married a single mom with a four-year-old son named Jeff. Years later, Jeff Bezos would name the qualities he most admired in his step-dad. Number one on the list? Grit. 

What is grit?

Author and academic Angela Duckworth got the business world talking about grit three years ago when she published her landmark study on the single factor common to all successful people. She called it "grit" and said it was "the hallmark of high achievers." Duckworth carefully defined grit as "the perseverance and passion for long-term goals." 

Finally, someone else understood what people like you and me had been saying all along--that starting a successful business takes more than money, talent, and strong feelings. It takes purpose refined over time. It takes grit.

You can succeed as an entrepreneur without genius or creativity. For sure, you can succeed without luck. But you'll never make it without grit. It was grit that gave Jeff Bezos the ability to say "no" to making a profit for 20 years. And it was grit that helped him hold the ship steady when Amazon transitioned from online bookseller to comprehensive e-retailer. He learned that grit from his step-dad who managed to survive in a new country as a kid with no money, no skills, and no network.

How grit makes the difference for entrepreneurs.

Grit means more than hard work. It's also the fundamental characteristic that keeps you in your chair working when you'd rather be doing anything else. It's the thing that motivates you when entrepreneurship gets boring and hard and you start dreaming about your glory days as a cubicle worker back at corporate.

Grit means doing the work because you've captured a big enough vision for your life that nothing short of entrepreneurship can help you achieve. Starting is the easy part; sticking with it once you've begun takes grit.

Raising kids to have grit.

My dad did the same thing for me that Jeff Bezos' dad did for him. I watched my dad give up a corner office and a great job as a supervisor for the Sweetheart Company in Chicago (now known as Solo Cup) so he could start his own business as a travel agent. I watched him fight for his businesses, his health, and his family. I saw a man with grit and I followed him. I too quit my corporate job and started a business. It fell through, so I did it again. And again. Without my dad's example of grit, I might never have the courage to try the first time.

Now, I have a five-year-old daughter. My wife and I are working on passing grit along to our little girl. I don't know how I'm doing. After all, I didn't face the same setbacks as Jeff Bezos' dad, so I probably haven't developed the same level of grit. But I'm determined to give my daughter what I can--the perseverance and passion to succeed over the long-term. That means I want her to have more than talent, money, or passion. I want her to have the passion and perseverance to move to a new country with three changes of clothes and help raise the richest kid there if that's what she needs to do. 

If grit is the differentiating factor between successful people and all the rest, then passing it on to my kids is the best inheritance I can leave for them.

Published on: Jul 22, 2019
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