“Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.” Colin Powell
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
Last Sunday on NPR, I listened to an overview of a Ted Talk highlighting the work of Angela Duckworth, who has studied success and its co-relation to what she calls “grit.” She defines grit as “sticking with things over the long-term until you master them.” Basically, her theory is refusing to give up is what leads to success.
Before she became a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Duckworth taught math in junior high and high school. In what would seem, on the face of it, to be somewhat self-evident, she saw that her most successful students were not necessarily her brightest or most naturally gifted students, but it was the students who tried the hardest who succeeded.
She came to believe intelligence could be an aid to success, but in some instances could stand in the way. Some of her smartest students, acclimated to easy or effortless achievement, would give up when mastery or success proved difficult, even more so if they experienced actual failure. That is when she began to develop her concept of grit. Like most good scholars, she went on a search of the literature and found lots of research measuring a positive connection between IQ and success, but little on links of success to persistence, determination, or just plain stick-to-it-tiveness.
So she began a study of students at Ivy League schools and learned that it was the grittiest students, not the brightest, who had the highest grade averages (GPAs). “The gritty individual, ” she writes, “sees success as a marathon. Their advantage is stamina.”
The analogy which springs to my mind is Aesop’s tale of the Tortoise and the Hare. Apparently, it is not just in the woods that slow and steady wins the race.
The context for me is two-fold. First, during my high school career, despite being a good student and having, what I’d like to think, are a good set of brains, I hit a class where I struggled. In Honors Math 11, nothing made sense to me. It was my first experience of failure. It didn’t help that my teacher’s way of dealing with this was to humiliate me for my “not getting it” as a way to shame me into doing better.
Yet, I got a 96 on the final Regents exam at the end of the year because I found a way to succeed. I realized I couldn’t learn from my Math 11 teacher so I went back to my 9th grade Algebra teacher and asked for help. I stayed after school for her every day until the proofs finally clicked for me and made sense. Yet, learning the Math was not the most important thing that happened in the long run. What really mattered was I learned the life lesson that if I refused to quit, I could wrestle failure into success.
Currently, my interest in this is that I still haven’t heard from the agent to whom I sent my query letter and the pages he requested when I pitched him. It’s almost two weeks, though it feels like a lifetime when I check my email, and I know it can take a lot longer.
I am not giving up. And if he doesn’t want to be my agent, I will find someone who will.
I always loved the quote attributed to Churchill that England was like the English bulldog, whose nose was slanted backward so that it could breathe without letting go. I may not be English but once I sink my teeth into something, like I did with Math 11, I don’t let go easily. One of my mottos in life is: “The only one who can make you fail is you.”
On a University of Pennsylvania webpage, Angela Duckworth has a “grit test.” On a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 as the grittiest, I got a 4.5. Maybe that is no surprise: I am at a gritty point in my life. (How gritty are you feeling? Want to take the test? Just clink on this link:) https://sasupenn.qualtrics.com/SE/SID=SV_06f6QSOS2pZW9qR&SaveButton=1&SSID=SS_5b51rJR5kZ69EmV
So how gritty are you? Feeling determined at this moment? I hope so! I don’t know what you want to succeed at, but I say: Turtles of the world unit. Let’s go get that “bwasted wabbit.”
- Is Having Grit The Key To Success? (wnyc.org)
- “Why grit, not IQ, predicts success” (philosovita.wordpress.com)
- Lessons from a MacArthur Genius: Psychologist Angela Duckworth on Why Grit, Not IQ, Predicts Success (brainpickings.org)