I have read “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth probably about six months ago but have never actually gotten to reviewing it here and as my goal is to review every book that I read during the year on this blog and 2020 is creeping to an end, I have decided to write down my impressions from “Grit” to not leave it behind.
I have been interested for a while in the topics of talent, growth and what, in general, makes high achiever to be high achievers and this is the exact question that Angela Duckworth is discussing in the book. According to the author, what makes the high achievers to get where they are is the perseverance through failures that happen on their way aside from talent and other abilities. As the author points out:
Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.
Duckworth starts the book with covering “naturalness bias” – basically, it is our preference for someone who arrived at a specific place in life because they are naturally talented. I personally do not believe in the concept of talent (a good read on this will be “The Peak” ) and I very much agree with this bit that the author mentions:
“…the biggest reason a preoccupation with talent can be harmful is simple: By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors – including grit – don’t matter as much as they really do.”
Unfortunately, mundanity and hard work is hard to sell. Duckworth also does not go this by: “In other words, when we can’t easily see how experience and training for someone to a level of excellence that is so clearly beyond the norm, we default to labelling that person “a natural”.
We prefer our excellence fully formed. We prefer mystery to mundanity.
The benefit of this approach is that as soon as we believe that the talent is divine or something given to someone, we feel like we can be off the hook so we are not trying to work hard at it or compete.
So what is that mysterious Grit
In short, grit is a combination of passion and perseverance. Passion is, per Duckworth, your ultimate goal that keeps you going every day, in a way obsessive focus on something. Perseverance is consistency over time or in simple words, not giving up when working on something difficult or coming across setbacks:
“…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection or disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity.”
How does the passion for something usually progress in us? Duckworth outlines four different stages:
- Intent – intrinsically enjoying what you do.
- Practice – daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday.
- Purpose – conviction that your work matters.
- Hope – rising-to-the occasion kind of perseverance.
In the book, Duckworth goes in detail on each of these components but something interesting that draw my attention was how she mentioned that for most people that she interviewed, the interest was something that they discovered after exploring and trying out several activities. So if you are seeing all the successful people around and thinking how they know right away what to work on and what interests them, don’t worry – they have likely already tried several things before they found something that they like:
“… interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by the interaction with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t. You can simply will yourself to “like” things either. As Jeff Bezos once observed: “One of the huge mistakes that people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. Without experimenting, you can’t figure out which interests will stick and which won’t.”
And if you are not sure where to start wit discovering your interests, Duckworth suggests a few useful questions to consider:
- What do I like to think about?
- Where does my mind wonder?
- What do I really care about?
- What matters to me?
- How do I enjoy spending my time?
There is way more information in the book regarding these individual components of grit as well as some sections on how to parent grit and the culture of grit so I definitely recommend to check it out.
My mother is convinced she is useless with baking but that I have a natural talent for it just like my grandmother who used to be a pastry chef. Every time she says it, I am quietly flipping inside and just smiling back. I am not sure she quite knows how many failed muffins, cakes, cookies and pies I had before I started making decent things. Sometimes, I also ask her about why she does not still give it a try – her response is that it takes too much time and that she does not have the talent for it. In the meantime, all I know is that:
Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.
Or in a more eloquent quote from Will Smith:
The only thing that I see is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or – I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.