What I am reading: Grit by Angela Duckworth

Why I read (listened to) it

Disclaimer: My brother-in-law’s sister-in-law is the acclaimed Angela Duckworth. I have met her a few times and she is a wonderful person.

Grit is a growth mindset demonstrated by successful people to persevere and achieve their goals. The author narrates the audio version of this book and takes us on several journeys to explore what it means to have grit and foster grit. She has taken her argument to the TED stage, has been referenced in books like The Power of Habit, and has been quoted in numerous articles. As someone who considers themselves a “jack-of-all-trades,” the concept that talent is not everything appeals to me.

What I learned from it

The achievement equation

Talent x Effort = Skill -> Skill x Effort = Achievement

Effort literally counts twice towards achievement. The worst compliment that you can give a successful person is telling them that “they are so naturally talented.” The phrase undermines the years of deliberate practice they have put in to master the skills in the area of their achievement. You may start with talent and that may give you a focus or goal. However, the effort put into that talent will give you the skills to wield that talent. Further effort into those skills with a goal in mind, will lead to achievement.

The Grit score

West Point graduates and National Spelling B contestants have one thing in common: A high Grit score. The score is based on a set of questions that measures focus and resiliency. The combination of “passion and perseverance,” Duckworth’s research shows that the Grit Score can be a predictor of achievement.

While it is easy to manipulate the score by choosing the “right” answer, if you answer honestly, the score will reflect your level of Grit right now. Duckworth points out that grit is not a predetermined trait and thus, your score can change over time as you try to achieve your top-level goal.

Be a wise parent

As a father of four boys, I was drawn in to Duckworth’s chapters on parenting for grit. Comparing authoritarian parents versus permissive supporting parents, she gives a qualitative argument that raising gritty kids takes a combination of both. As your child’s passion changes over time, a parent should support them, but also make sure that they are challenging themselves. She raises her own children (who are great, by the way) using “The Hard Thing” rule:

  • Every member in the family (including herself) is required to do one thing that requires deliberate practice.
  • People must finish what they start: you can’t quit baseball mid-season.
  • No one can pick “The Hard Thing” for you

The Hard Thing rule is both supportive in letting the child choose for themselves, while demanding in the commitment and practice. Wise parenting helps teach the value and benefits of grit as children and parents see the fruits of the efforts put in. As children get older, “finish what you start” is more concretely defined as committing for at least 2 years. Research shows that children who have committed to extracurriculars for more than one year in high school do far better in college and employment.

Simply put, a wise parent is loving, supportive and demanding while also demonstrating grit in their own life. Simply stated, but not easy to do!

Final Thoughts

Although I am slightly biased, Duckworth’s book is well written, well received and shapes the argument that effort is twice as important as talent when it comes to achieving your goals. The book is a vindication to those who feel less naturally talented, but none-the-less, power through towards achievement. Even if you currently find your motivation levels a little low, grit is something that can be cultivated.


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