I didn’t earn particularly outstanding grades in middle school. Sure, I got some A’s, but I also got a lot of B’s and even some C’s (especially in math). I didn’t have any inherent talents to speak of and I had very little confidence in my natural abilities. It wasn’t until 8th grade that I decided to do well in school and really try to earn the grades I wanted. That year, I got straight A’s and I continued to set a high standard for myself throughout high school and college. And now I am about to start my journey to receive my PhD.
People often tell me that I am super smart because of my academic accomplishments. I always respond by saying that I’ve gotten where I am today because I pushed myself to constantly work hard. I did well in school because of my tireless work ethic; I was able to found and run a chapter of She’s the First because I refused to stay down for long after being knocked to the ground; and I succeeded in music and performance arts because of consistent, passionate practice. I am the person I am today not because of any inherent talent or natural ability, but because of the combination of continued passion and hard work toward future goals; something Dr. Angela Duckworth calls grit.
In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth uses the knowledge she has gained through her background in neuroscience, ongoing psychological research, continuous interviews of paragons of grit, and experience as a mother to explain what makes a person gritty and how someone can work toward gaining this trait throughout their life.
So, what even is grit? This is the question Duckworth seeks to answer in the first part of her book. According to Duckworth, grit is made up of a special combination of passion and determination, where the passion is enduring and the determination is made up of hard work and direction, creating perseverance. She warns, however, against becoming distracted by talent. Duckworth exposes our tendency to prefer an individual who is a “natural” over a person who has struggled and worked hard for their success, even if they have the same credentials. Sure, talent can be important in success, but unless it is paired with grit, it likely will not lead to achievement.
This may be around the time that you’re asking, “Is it possible to become gritty?” Duckworth strongly believes the answer is yes, and the next two parts of her book explain how it can be done. She explains that grit can be grown both from “the inside out” and “the outside in.”
Grit has been seen to be fostered from the inside out through four parts: interest, practice, purpose, and hope. Interest is the initial trigger that leads to continued passion. It can occur subtly without the person even noticing, but it must be retriggered repeatedly to grow into a long-lasting vocation. Practice is also essential in the formation of grit and becoming truly skilled in a specific field; however, Duckworth stresses the importance of “deliberate practice,” which must fit all of these requirements:
- A clearly defined stretch goal
- Full concentration and effort
- Immediate and informative feedback
- Repetition with reflection and refinement
This may seem unremarkable, but very few times where we are practicing are we checking off all four of these boxes. There is also purpose, which Duckworth defines as “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” While practicing and refining a skill-set to become truly successful may seem inherently selfish, achieving a top-level goal to benefit other people in the long run is actually very selfless. Purpose is what changes a career to a calling. Lastly, hope is vitally important to grit, as it is the persistent belief that you can create a better future for yourself and a refusal to stay down after failure. It depends on a “growth mindset,” where your ideas of your abilities are not fixed or limited and you don’t say “I just don’t think that way” or “I could never do that.” All of these traits can be grown and taught, and, together, they make grit.
But grit can also be grown from the outside in. This primarily depends on parenting, teaching, coaching, and a “culture of grit,” where both high standards and constant support are integral in shaping a gritty person. For example, high schoolers who are encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities are less likely to drop out of college, but there’s a twist: they had to keep at it for at least two years for it to be associated with future grit. Either extracurriculars are making children grittier or kids with a predisposition for grittiness are more likely to stick it out. Duckworth, however, believes this phenomenon is a combination of these two things, saying “following through on our commitments while we grow up both requires grit and, at the same time, builds it.”
Reading this book led me to further understand myself and others. I wasn’t too far off-base when I theorized that my small amount of success has been largely fueled by hard work and I surely recommend this book to gritty people, as well as those who would like a little more grit.
For more on grit in the words of Angela Duckworth herself, check out her TED Talk below: