“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.” This quote comes from the beginning of “Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” The book is about grit, which is pretty much what it sounds like: sticking to things, even when the going gets tough. Why do some people have more grit that others? Can you increase your own “grittiness”? Can you help others develop this quality?
Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Author Angela Duckworth suggests early on that talent is overrated at the expense of grit. “Talent — how fast we improve in skill — absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.” She quotes a “gritty” man who says, “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” I get this. I remember, during my senior year of high school, being interviewed for the school newspaper. I was one of four valedictorians that year, and the reporter asked what I attributed my academic success to. I wasn’t really sure, and remember saying, “I always do my homework?” At the time, it seemed kind of lame, but there’s something to this. As a teacher now myself, I see that a whole lot of people out there don’t “do their homework” (something that was inconceivable to me as a child and teen). Effort does pay off in time, for pretty much everyone.
I liked this quote by actor Will Smith:
The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me … You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.
Grit is made up of perseverance and passion, and yes, some of these qualities are somewhat genetic. Duckworth quotes a survey that found that the heritability of perseverance is 37%, while the heritability of passion is 20%.
One way to develop grit is to practice something you want to improve at. The author discusses a swim coach talking about a successful swimmer who “willingly does more deliberate practice than anyone” he ever know. He discusses trying something that she is terrible at. He’ll find her practicing it over and over to improve, until she is one of the best in the group. This reminded me of me in high school typing class. I was not very fast at first, and this really stressed me out. I remember going home and typing each evening, propping up a magazine article or catalog and just typing away at whatever text was there. Before long, I was one of the fastest typists in class.
One aspect of most gritty peoples’ lives is routine — they are “creatures of habit.” Most follow those routines each day; this cuts down on the amount of decisions that need to be made. I can relate to this. Although I don’t enjoy exercise, for six days a week for the past several decades, I’ve gone down to the exercise bike for 30 minutes at 7 a.m. It’s not a choice — I just do it.
The author also says that you can put yourself in an easier situation for developing grit if you surround yourself with other gritty people: “There’s a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity — the basic human drive to fit in — because if you’re around a lot of people who are gritty, you’re going to act grittier.” I thought of kids in a marching band.
As a parent and as a teacher, I was interested in the part of the book where the author discusses how to encourage grit in others. She found that encouragement in the early years of someone pursuing a passion is crucial, because during this period beginners are still trying to decide whether or not to stick with an activity. The best teachers “Made the initial learning very pleasant and rewarding. Much of the introduction to the field was as playful activity, and the learning at the beginning of this stage was much like a game.”
At the start of an endeavor, we need encouragement and freedom to figure out what we enjoy. We need small wins. We need applause. Yes, we can handle a tincture of criticism and corrective feedback. Yes, we need to practice. But not too much and not too soon. Rush a beginner and you’ll bludgeon their budding interest. It’s very, very hard to get that back once you do.
Also related to me because of my piano teaching — she mentions that the amount of time musicians devote to practicing alone is a much better predictor of how quickly they progress than the time spent practicing with other musicians. This is interesting, because most students would far rather practice together than alone.
It’s about hard work. When it’s not fun, you do what you need to do anyway. Because when you achieve results, it’s incredibly fun.
The work you put in during practice shows off in the meet (or recital)
If you’re a parent attempting to encourage grit in your kids, show them that you buy in to their activities: “We found over and over again that the parents of the pianists would send their child to tennis lessons but they would take their child to piano lessons. And we found just the opposite in the tennis homes.”
Why should we care about developing grit? “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t. Or as Henry Ford is often quoted as saying, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right.'”
I felt that the book kind of dragged as it went on, but it began strongly and was interesting overall. Have you read “Grit”? How “gritty” do you consider yourself to be?