Readers, I apologize. This blog is about redefining success. It's about looking beyond the standard definition of success as power, money, and prestige. I've been writing it for a long time, yet I have neglected to discuss something important in the psychology of success: grit.
Grit is what I want to talk about. Grit, by Angela Duckworth, happens to be one of the more intriguing and helpful books on success I have read. Along with Mindset by Carol Dweck it has been among the most influential. Yet, in going over my blog, I can’t find any posts on the topic. Perhaps I wrote one and forgot, but perhaps I just overlooked it, as one overlooks something familiar and integral, such as the family dog. Until you trip over him. Or he demands your attention by sticking his nose into your hand.
What is grit? Is grit muscling through weekend traffic on 495 and 95 to and from visiting your rising 10th grader at her theater camp's performance day? Is it sitting through four musicals and plays in one day, sitting, let me just add, first outside on wooden planks, then inside on theater seats, then outside in the amphitheater on split logs that are trying to pitch you down a hillside, then inside in the theater, and finally on the floor on a sleeping bag that might be infested with fleas?
Sadly, no, that is not grit. Although there was plenty of grit around. But this is a different kind of grit. Did you ever read that book, True Grit? They made a movie out of it in 1969, starring John Wayne and Kim Darby. And the Coen brothers remade it in 2010 with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Well, True Grit is about pursuing a goal with single minded passion and going through a lot to reach it. It, in the story, is the girl’s father.
Well, Duckworth came to study grit from an interest in achievement. She was a student of famous psychologist Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, and she was trying to figure out how talent, skill, effort, achievement, and success were all linked. She noticed, through her own and others’ research and experience that talent alone was not enough to succeed. A person needs skill, in addition to talent. In fact, she discovered, talent is intertwined with skill. Talent is “how fast we improve in skill.”
In short, spend a little time with Duckworth, and you’re in the pond with the ducks. By which I mean, she continues the work of Carol Dweck that erodes the myth of the genius born with “natural talent.” Until I read Mindset, which I've written about in several posts, I was one of those people who fetishised the idea of the natural genius. Duckworth’s not saying there aren’t differences in the ability with which we may improve in skill, i.e. differences in talent. However, talent alone doesn’t make for success. In fact, she says, talent, which correlates with, for example, high SAT scores, does not predict success in life when pursuing sustained pursuit of goals.
So what transforms talent into skill? Duckworth says effort.
Talent x Effort = Skill
But in seeking to achieve a challenging goal, skill is not enough, either. Achievement requires effort, too.
Skill x Effort = Achievement.
Which means, according to Duckworth, that effort factors into success twice. She says, “If I have the math approximately right, then someone twice as talented but half as hardworking as another person might reach the same level of skill but still produce dramatically less over time. This is because as strivers are improving in skill, they are also employing that skill…..[Then] the striver who equals the person who is a natural in skill by working harder will, in the long run, accomplish more.” (p. 51)
Grit is “passion and perseverance.” Grit is enjoying “the chase” as well as “the capture.” That is, having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one. That means you believe in your ability to improve. Another indication of grit is the ability to be “satisfied being unsatisfied.” That is, the ability to return to your work, your project, your book, your painting, your research, day after day, knowing that every day you haven’t yet achieved what you wanted, but that every day you are making it a little closer to your goal.
What makes us work hard over a long period? Passion. I think you could safely call this intrinsic motivation. A growth mindset helps us persevere. And when we persevere with passion over a long period, we exhibit grit.
So now I’ll bet you all want to know if you have grit. I do. I have grit. Of that I am one thousand percent positive. Which is nice for a change from my usual state of self-doubt. I know from looking at how I live my life. I am a writer. Still. After decades of effort. But I also know because Angela Duckworth has a little quiz in her book, which I took, and yes, I have grit. You can take the quiz here: https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/
Let me know how gritty you are!
Don’t be afraid. I feel like this is all good news. Success is largely in our control. We tend to get grittier as we mature. "Grit is growable," says Duckworth. More on that in a future post. Plus, if all goes well, I will have an interview about this topic to share with you.
©Hope A Perlman Aug. 2017
This post appears in slightly different form on my personal blog, Unmapped Country.
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Duckworth, Angela. Grit. New York: Scribner, 2016.