Today a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth titled “The Key to Success? Grit” In it she talks about how it’s not always the most talented people who succeed, but rather those who are dogged in their perseverance of their goal = those with the most grit. This is of course true. I once heard Bill Murray, who had at the time been nominated for an Oscar, say that he was far from the most talented actor in his class and that mostly what he had going for him was his refusal to give up, his determination to try again and do better.
At the end of Ms. Duckworth’s video she says something that surprised me. She says she really has no idea how to “build” grit in kids. Then she mentions a program developed by someone at Stanford called “Growth Mindset” in which kids are taught about the brain and that “the ability to learn is not fixed; that it can change with your effort.” She sees this as a possible way to ‘teach’ kids to have grit – to help them understand that failure is not final and that they can improve upon a skill if they keep at it. Other than that she is open to suggestions.
Honestly when I heard that part of the video my response was, “umm, what?”
Eloquent, I know.
Truly, though, is this really a big mystery? Is it that hard to figure out what reveals a person’s “grit factor”? I don’t believe that some people have grit and others don’t. In the right circumstances we all have it.
And just what are those circumstances?
They differ for each person, depending on that person’s own internal motivations and interests.
That’s the answer: motivation & interest. What motivates you? What motivates your kid? And why should a child in a classroom – who is uninterested in the subject matter and/or who has been told what they enjoy doing is stupid or invalid or that they themselves are lacking in some way – display any grit in that environment? Although the fact that they survive it at all is a kind of grit in and of itself.
So to Ms. Duckworth I say, “Compulsory schooling is the great destroyer of grit and inspiration for most kids. You want to see grit in a child? Find out what they like to do and provide them the resources and support to do it. You will be amazed at their perseverance and motivation in the face of even great odds. They will reach far beyond your expectations and take mistakes and failures in stride in pursuit of their goals.”