During one of his annual speeches to the parents and young players, my daughter’s orchestra conductor once said that in his experience, the difference between a great player and an
average player wasn’t based on talent, the quality of the teacher or the instrument. The secret lay in what he called “stick-to-itiveness.” What he meant is that for everyone who plays an instrument, there comes a time when it gets hard—the music gets complicated, practicing is a chore, and the players are tempted to quit. Many do. The ones that can “stick-to-it” are the ones who improve, grow and become better players. In his mind, this quality of being able to stick with something in the face of hard work or disappointment was a crucial ingredient in the
recipe for success.
Whether he knew it or not, he was onto something.
What is the secret to success? Why do some kids, especially ones with similar IQs, talents or
opportunities succeed while others do not?
Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder and CEO of Character Lab, put the answers that psychology has found so far together with real-life experiences of people from different walks of life in her best-selling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
In the book, she digs deeper into current scientific research and makes it understandable to the reader. She also showcases many real-life examples of “gritty” people--from athletes and
cadets at West Point to kids in the National Spelling Bee, business owners and other high
achievers she has interviewed. Their stories are compelling and illustrate what grit means in a
way that all readers can relate to.
In Part I of her book, Duckworth defines grit as a special blend of passion and perseverance and discusses why it matters. She invites the readers to find out their own level of grittiness by doing a self-assessment provided in the book.
One of the fundamental questions around grit has been about how people cultivate it: Does it come from the person’s natural disposition or the outside influences of parenting, schooling, culture, and life experiences? Duckworth explains that all parts are important. Part II of her book speaks about “Growing Grit From the Inside Out” and how interest, practice, purpose, and hope play a role in the internal development of grit.
In Part III, she addresses “Growing Grit From the Outside In” and the interplay of parenting,
culture and life experiences on how we develop grit.
She concludes the book by offering her thoughts on whether it is possible to have too much grit and what failure teaches us. She ends by answering seven common questions about grit.
I will leave you with a final quote from page 275, which has been an inspiration to me:
To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an
interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in
challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times and rise eight.
Angela Duckworth’s book can be found here:
You can listen to Angela’s TED Talk here: