When it comes to success, is grit as important as intelligence?
I consider that question often, and most recently during the preparation of the epilogue for the second edition of my book, Through the Fires, where I refer to some courageous people who are rising above hardship and adversity.
When Angela Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studied people in challenging settings, including contestants in the National Spelling Bee, salespeople new to their positions, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and cadets at West Point, she said she discovered that one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It was grit.
Duckworth discussed her findings in a 2013 TED Talk, where she defined grit as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.
When I think of a gritty individual, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. Lincoln suffered enormous loss throughout his life, yet never gave up. Born into poverty, his mother died when he was nine. He lost his first job as well as his first election campaign. His first love died, and only one of his four sons lived to adulthood. He was defeated in his bid for the vice presidential nomination. Depression was a constant during his adult life.
But he persisted and after an arduous race for the Republican presidential nomination (he was up against a trio of more experienced politicians), Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States on March 4, 1861 when he was 52 years of age.
My mother had grit, and I’d like to think I possess a certain amount of grit, too. I am a wealthy man today, but I recall vividly what it was like to be poor and behind in my bills. I understand what it’s like to open a letter declaring that my home was entering foreclosure proceedings. I know what it’s like to survive a childhood with an abusive father. And I know what it’s like to plug away and find light at the end of the tunnel.
I look for grit in the people I hire, and in the students I send to college. To get ahead in the office and in life you need to work hard. It’s as simple as that. I could throw money at a problem like student debt, but I choose to fund college educations through my foundation for kids who demonstrate persistence and pure will — kids who’ve got grit.
I know it takes a lot of attention and effort to develop a solid work ethic in students and keep them motivated for the long haul.
Interestingly, Duckworth referred to a term known as growth mindset, which she defined as a belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, and that with effort it can change. She said that when kids discover that the brain develops and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don’t believe that failure is lasting.
To be gritty, Duckworth said, we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.
That’s got to be promising for anyone who has suffered defeat. It’s not about intelligence, it’s not about talent — it’s about picking yourself up and trying harder. Because if that’s your attitude, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Amen!!Proud to know you, Bob!
Paul Tough wrote an excellent book called “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” which carefully and extensively documents how grit and other character traits often are key factors in the success of children in achieving educational goals. . see. http://www.paultough.com. Mr. Tough’s book includes a discussion of Professor Angela Duckworth’s work and the work of other researchers. It also has a chapter on OneGoal (www.onegoalgraduation.org) which helps inner-city high school kids in Chicago and other cities prepare for and succeed in college.
Well said. Passion + Peserverence = Grit. I like it because the original definition only has peserverence component. I believe that passion is a very important element as well, it keeps one going even in the darkest days because it has the deep connection to who we are. Passion is developed from our experience, particular in childhood when one discovers the world and how things around us work. Finding one’s passion is a personal journey, but could benefit from constructive guidance from parents, teachers and mentors. There are talented kids who are good at what they do but they do it because of demands from their parents or society. Then, they never get chance to make connections between what they do and who they are. The danger is when things go again them, they can totally sink deep in despair, and let the results define themselves. As a mother of three, I truly believe that guardians and mentors should pay more attention to children’s development beyond just academic performance. Give them space to make mistakes and work through them so they can learn from the process. Give them runway to develop their decision making skills. I guess the same things apply to leaders who motivate others through passion.
Bob Carr Heartland
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Great article – I believe courage is also an element of “grit” – as the willingness to fail, risking failure – can be very difficult in a culture or society that seems to value and celebrate the short term “at all costs” win.