Thursday, November 17, 2016
What's grit and how can you get some?
Angela Duckworth, PhD., is a 2015 MacArthur Fellow and a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, her first book, is a deservedly best seller. I suspect it has done well because the text includes Duckworth's research, her interviews with interesting and gritty people, with personal stories from her life. And it's easy to read.
Basically, to be successful you need a combination of passion and perseverance—that is, grit. You can be talented. You can be intelligent. You can be charming, well-educated, and ambitious. But without grit, your ability to push on, your success will be limited.
Why? Because, based on Duckworth's research, talented and intelligent people without grit tend to give up when things get tough. They drop out of West Point. They quit practicing. They lose interest. They get bored. They decide they can't do it so they quit. In contrast, mature paragons of grit have four psychological assets:
1. They have interest. "Every gritty person I've studied can point to aspects of their work they enjoy less than others, and most have to put up with at least one or two chores they don't enjoy at all. Nevertheless they are captivated by the endeavor as a whole."
2. They practice. They work, and work, and work on their weaknesses to become better, more skillful, more proficient.
3. They have purpose. They are convinced that their work matters. They believe that their work is "personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the well-being of others."
4. They have hope. "Hope," she writes, "is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance."
Once she explains what grit is and why it matters, Duckworth writes about ways readers can improve their own Grit score on a brief quiz she includes and ways parents and teachers can grow grittiness in offspring and students. And while I believe almost anyone—even the gritty—can read the book with profit (one reason it's a best seller), I was particularly interested in her John Irving (The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, etc.) example.
Irving earned C— in high school English. He needed to stay in high school an extra year to have enough credits to graduate. His SAT verbal score was 475 out of 800. His teachers thought he was both "lazy" and "stupid." Because reading and writing did not come easily, "I learned that I just had to pay twice as much attention," he wrote. "I came to appreciate that in doing something over and over again, something that was never natural became almost second nature. You learn that you have the capacity for that, and that it doesn't come overnight."
Irving said, "One reason I have confidence in writing the kind of novels I write is that I have confidence in my stamina to go over something again and again no matter how difficult it it. Rewriting is what I do best as a writer. I spend more time revising a novel or a screenplay than I take to write the first draft."
In commenting on his inability to read and write as fluently as others, Irving believes, "It's become an advantage. In writing a novel, it doesn't hurt anybody to have to go slowly. It doesn't hurt anyone as a writer to have to go over something again and again." Words to live by.