Book Review: Grit by Angela Duckworth
The premise of Angela Duckworth's book is that grit, a combination of passion and perseverance, is the true driver of success across domains. Not talent. And, beautifully, Angela shows that grit can be grown.
Overall, I found the book to be engaging, thought-provoking, and challenging. Throughout the book Angela tells the story of several paragons of grit, people who are exemplars of passion and perseverance, who are inspiring examples for the reader to enjoy.
Wondering how gritty you are? Take the grit scale available on Angela's website. Be honest, and remember that whatever your results, you can always grow your grit.
Introduction & Discovery of Grit
Angela discusses her time as a teacher, in which she observed that her most talented students weren't necessarily the students that excelled the most. Rather, some talented students never applied themselves, yielding lackluster results, while some strugglers worked hard and mastered the concepts. As she observed this, she began to ask herself questions:
"When I taught a lesson and the concept failed to gel, could it be that the struggling student need to struggle just a bit longer? Could it be that I needed to find a different way to explain what I was trying to get across? Before jumping to the conclusion that talent was destiny, should I be considering the importance of effort? And, as a teacher, wasn't it my responsibility to figure out how to sustain effort - both the students' and my own - just a bit longer?" - p. 17
Since she observed there wasn't always a correlation between aptitude and achievement, she concluded that all of her students were talented enough to learn the material, assuming she and they both mustered sufficient effort over time.
This was one of Angela's first glimpses into the grit paradigm and from here, Angela delves into her research and testimony of others that supports the notion that perseverance is one of the true drivers of achievement.
The other driver of success is passion. In her definition, passion doesn't refer to a certain intensity of commitment, but rather references the idea of "consistency over time" (p. 57) and "how steadily you hold to goals over time" (p. 58). She proceeds by introducing the concept of goal hierarchies as presented by Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks:
She goes on to explain, how gritty people structure their goals so that their low-level and mid-level goals support their top level goals. Less gritty people might have a top-level goal without low-level and mid-level goals to support their ultimate goal. Or they might have several mid-level goals that aren't unified underneath a top-level goal. Or maybe, they even have competing high level goals. But gritty people, they channel their energy entirely into a single passion, their high level goal. Though Angela acknowledges that competing goals might be inevitable. For example, she has both a professional goal hierarchy and another as as a mother.
Consequently, both passion and perseverance are the drivers of success.
Effort Counts Twice
Angela explains how in our culture, so many of us fall into the temptation of crediting success to talent. When we watch Olympians, for example, we want to awe over their talent rather than consider the hours and hours of effort they put into developing their skill. But really, this short changes us, because as Angela says, effort counts twice. She concludes this from the following two formulas:
talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement
So, yes, talent is factored in. We do have limits, but ultimately, our effort contributes both to skill development AND achievement. It's crucial to the psychology of success. And Angela acknowledges that the "precociously talented" might not learn the lesson of effort and discover the reward of success that can come as a result of struggle. Similarly, throughout the text she questions whether gritty people go through experiences that allow them to reveal their grit, or whether situations that demand grit foster its development, or both. Regardless, it's important to know that effort counts and grit can be developed.
Additionally, Angela also acknowledges that her research is only on the psychology of success. For example, one limitation of her research is that she does not explore the influence of outside factors, such as coaching.
Growing Grit from the Inside Out
With a chapter dedicated to each of the subjects below, Angela describes in depth how we can be proactive about developing grit within ourselves, or as she puts it, we can grow our grit from the inside out:
Interest - developed through interaction with the outside world that is then fostered and developed
Practice - deliberately practicing for improvement by setting stretch goals that enable the individual to grow and learn
Purpose - the intention to contribute to the well-being of others
Hope - that our efforts can improve our future
Angela connects her observations on hope to the work of Carol Dweck on mindsets, recognizing that a growth mindset and grit often go hand in hand. A growth mindset, welcomes challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, whereas a fixed mindset views challenges as tests of ability, potentially revealing the individual as insufficient. As an aside, I highly recommend Mindset by Carol Dweck as well.
Growing Grit from the Outside In
In this section of the book, Angela explores how outside forces influence the development of our grit, which she describes as growing grit from the outside in. As a teacher, I think it is crucial to be thinking about how to develop grit in my students. I want to see the bloom in whatever they undertake.
Angela explains that the word parent is derived from a Latin word and it means "to bring forth" (p. 199). Consequently, anyone hoping to bring forth grit (parents, coaches, supervisors, teachers, army generals, etc) in someone else is acting in a parent like way. Consequently her discussion on "Parenting for Grit" has significant implications outside of the family.
While the author expresses a desire for more research, her conclusions are that an environment can be both supportive AND demanding, and that here is where grit grows. As a music teacher, I love this! I love holding high expectations for my students, showing them how to get there, and hearing them perform well, regardless of age or experience level.
Angela also discusses the role extracurricular activities play in developing or displaying grit in young people, especially as these activities tend to both be interesting and challenging. She also emphasizes the role that culture plays in fostering grit. She summarizes it like this, "If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you're a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture" (p. 245).
I really appreciate Angela's final conclusions on grit. Yes, grit is important, but it isn't everything. If she had to choose between character and grit for her children, she'd choose character.
And she also recognizes that there are appropriate times to quit... otherwise she'd still be distracted from her high levels goals by the piano and becoming fluent in French.
Angela also recognizes that we also face limits (in both talent & opportunity). No amount of passion and perseverance will turn her daughter into Mozart, but instead we pursue grit "to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal" (p. 275) and to discover our potential.
YES! I definitely recommend this book. As a musician, some of her research hit very close to home. Of course, I have spent countless hours deliberately practicing my instruments to develop my skills. But the implications go beyond that. Yes, I am now a skillful musician, but "making it" as a musician is a different thing all together. I have professional business goals that I am still working to achieve and these skills need refined just like what I do on my instruments. And knowing that grit can get me there (not just needing to be a "talented entrepreneur") is so encouraging.
I think this book is really good for musicians everywhere, from young students who are just starting to be challenged as musicians to developed musicians who are regularly flying around the country taking auditions to those who may have already graduated with a degree in music and are trying to find their way in the professional world.