Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Grit:  The Power Of Passion And Perseverance

GritFollowing up on last week's post, Grit and Legal Education:  Wall Street Journal, The Virtue of Hard Things (reviewing Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania), Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (May 3, 2016)):

Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including “The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp.” But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?

Angela Duckworth argues that the answer is “grit,” which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal. The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past decade studying why some people have extraordinary success and others do not. “Grit” is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success and also tells the stories of many gritty exemplars, from New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, who submitted some 2,000 drawings to the magazine before one was accepted, to actor Will Smith, who explains his success as follows: “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. . . . If we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”

As for Mr. Irving, though verbal fluency did not come easily to him as a young man, what he lacked in aptitude he made up for in effort. In school, if his peers allotted one hour to an assignment, he devoted two or three. As a writer, he works very slowly, constantly revising drafts of his novels. “In doing something over and over again,” he has said, “something that was never natural becomes almost second nature.” ...

Grit predicts their success more robustly than innate ability. And there is no positive correlation between ability and grit. A study of Ivy League undergraduates even showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less gritty they were.

Grit may be defined by strenuous effort, but what drives that work, Ms. Duckworth finds, is passion, and a great service of Ms. Duckworth’s book is her down-to-earth definition of passion. To be gritty, an individual doesn’t need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show “consistency over time.” The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. “Enthusiasm is common,” she writes. “Endurance is rare.” ... 

But even preternaturally gifted people reach a point where their talent is not enough. Here the second part of grit—perseverance—becomes critically important. Adults must expect the children in their care to see their interests through. Ms. Duckworth tells the story of NFL quarterback Steve Young, who had a disappointing first semester on the Brigham Young football team and wanted to come home. His father told him: “You can quit. . . . But you can’t come home because I’m not going to live with a quitter.” This sounds very harsh. Yet Ms. Duckworth cites research showing that when adults set high expectations, while also providing support, kids respond by upping their game. So it was with Young. “It was tough, but it was loving,” he said about his father’s response. Young stayed on, eventually winning an award for best collegiate quarterback.

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"But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?"

See also: Jose Saramago, the late Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist who (technically) didn't graduate from high school and didn't write his first novel until he was nearly 50, and Roberto Bolano, the late Mexican novelist and high school dropout whose magnum opus "2666" is considered by many literary critics to be the current high water mark for literature in the 21st century.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 10, 2016 3:48:56 PM