Last year I saw the TedTalk video of Angela Duckworth about grit (click link) and was fascinated so I was probably one of the first Filipino buyers of her book when it came out in May 2016.
What is grit?
The dictionary defines grit as 1.) small, loose particles of stone or sand; 2.) courage and resolve; strength of character.
There was an old Hollywood movie entitled True Grit and it was about the sustained passion and perseverance against all odds of the female character to find the killer of her father, with the help of John Wayne’s character.
In the now bestselling book of Angela Duckworth, former McKinsey consultant turned teacher and now psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, grit is defined as the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.
When Angela left her prestigious and demanding consulting job for a more demanding job as a 7th grade teacher, she observed that her top students were not always the ones who possessed high IQ. She went on further to study the high achievers at the West Point, Spelling Bee contests, teachers in tough neighborhoods, athletes, sales people, finance and business people, etc. and she found out the common denominator among all of them. It was not high IQ, social intelligence, good looks, top health condition, but grit, the passion and perseverance for long-term goals. They had the stamina for years to work hard and treated life not as a sprint but as a marathon.
What about Talent?
We are all very fascinated with talent and are always quick to attribute someone’s success to it, “Wow! Congratulations, you’re so talented!” “That was a magnificent performance, you are a natural!” Talent is important and as a certified Gallup Strengths Coach, I am aware of the importance of our respective God given gifts, but most of the time we give too much weight on this aspect, which is essentially a genetic lottery. The reality is talent is important, but effort or grit trumps talent.
The Success Formula
Angela came up with a formula showing how talent counts once, but effort counts twice:
Talent x Effort = Skill
(If you have a base talent on something and you apply effort, you develop a skill.)
Skill x Effort = Achievement
(If you work further and apply to your skill more effort, then you actualize achievement).
Instead of debating on which of the two is more important, talent or grit, let’s just put it this way: When one lacks grit, his talent is put to waste!
The good news is we can grow our grit.
In today’s have-it-in-one-click instant gratification world, is it still possible to raise our children to have grit? Haven’t we all become so impatient if we don’t get what we want right away? And it’s true for both children and adults. How can our children be successful if we don’t model and raise them to have this trait that is the common denominator among all successful people?
The book outlines how we can grow grit.
- Know your interest. This is the clue to what our gifts or talents are. Don’t we always hear commencement speakers say, “Follow your passion?” But note that knowing your passion is not always as easy as most movies and dramatic articles on super achievers portray. Sometimes it takes time to discover it, and the path is not a straight line. It is something you get into, you encounter again and again, and mind you, you don’t necessarily have to love everything about that But it is something that you stick with despite all odds. For parents, our being present will make us observe what our children’s gifts and interests are, especially if we don’t always dictate on them. 🙂 Let’s allow them to develop their interest in a fun way.
- Practise. Strive to improve each day. Compete with who you were yesterday and resist complacency. The Japanese call this kaizen, which means continuous improvement, the relentless need to improve, no matter how excellent they already are. This is devoting the 10,000 hours as written by Gladwell in Outliers. Angela also mentioned that experts have devoted at least ten years in their field before they became experts. And more than the number of hours and years is the quality of the practice. It has to be deliberate and efficient practice. The experts zero in on their weaknesses, do so over and over again, for hours, days, years until they attain mastery.
We have a lot to learn from a child who’s learning how to sit up, crawl or walk. Observe him and you will notice that he just goes on and on despite the number of falls he makes. But when he starts going to school, something is changed in his perception of falling or making mistakes. Mistakes/wrong answers are frowned upon and he starts protecting himself from this negative reaction, which eventually stops him from trying out new things altogether. This is the reason why both teachers and parents should deliberately show to children emotion-free mistake making. A teacher may say, “Oh I made a mistake in counting the blocks, let me do it again.” Parents may probably share their boo-boo experiences with their kids on an age-appropriate basis, especially the ones where they consequently triumphed after being relentless.
- Purpose. Another source of passion (aside from interest) is purpose, the intention to contribute to the well being of others. Angela studied 16,000 adult Americans and found that grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek meaningful, other-centered life. Higher scores on a purpose scale correlate with higher scores on the grit scale. The desire to help others sustains them, makes them grittier, consequently, making them more successful.
Here’s an illustration that can help us understand how we can turn whatever we’re doing to be more meaningful and make us grittier. Three bricklayers were asked, “What are you doing?”
- First – I’m laying bricks.
- Second – I’m building a church.
- Third – I’m building the house of God.
The first one has a job. The second one has a career. The third one has a calling. Where do you think you stand now if you’re asked that question about your current occupation? The good news is you can transform your job from just a source of income, to a more challenging career, to a more meaningful career, given a deeper understanding of your gifts and how you are affecting others with what you’re doing. I promise, you are affecting others, no matter how menial you think your current occupation is right now.
- Hope/Adopt a growth mindset. Believe that our skills and IQ are malleable and not set in stone. Science shows that our brains continue to grow well past childhood; hence, we don’t have fixed abilities even during our adulthood. This reminds me of one of my mantras in life: I want to be a student for life!
Angela discussed about the experiments on dogs about learned hopelessness by Seligman, Dweck’s mindset theory, the difference between the optimists (those who consider adversities as temporary and specific) and the pessimists (those who consider adversities as permanent and pervasive). In raising our children, let’s try to instill in them optimism and growth mindset in order to be gritty. In fact, schools should give the grade “NOT YET!” instead of “FAIL!”
A provocative question was raised on the situations of both the children growing up in extreme poverty, and too much entitlement. The former may suffer from too much trauma without control, while the latter may grow up friction-free for a long time before encountering adversity. Both cases can be debilitating. So parents, take caution and be aware of this parenting challenge.
Paragons of Grit
The book discusses interesting aspects about the lives of great examples of gritty people – from Charles Darwin to Jeff Bezos, to successful athletes, artists, chefs, sick people, soldiers, wine enthusiasts, comedians, teachers, finance, sales and other business people. Angela also acknowledged that not all gritty people are good. Hitler, Stalin, terrorists may well score very high on the grit scale. Fortunately, there are more good ones than bad.
Let’s check our own Grit Scores
If you’re interested to know how you and your children score on the grit scale, you may take your test here.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Are you happy with your grit scores? Remember that your score is not etched in stone, it can be grown to help you and your children become more successful in life.
Cheers to growing our grit!
- Marvin Fausto and I will give a talk to the TGFI Singapore chapter on the Psychology of Money scheduled on July 30, 2016. Register at http://bit.ly/29idLDI.
- Watch out for my FQ talk in cooperation with Security Bank in Mandaue, Cebu. Date and venue to be announced.
Rose Fres Fausto is the author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.
ATTRIBUTIONS: Photos from billboards.values.com, lewis-lin.com, polyvore.com, movieposter.com, pbs.org, fotolia.com, 123rf.com to help deliver the message of the article.