I was on fire to read this book for two reasons: to validate my concept of myself as a person with a lot of grit, and to learn anything new that I could about this trait. What I learned from Angela Duckworth is that I’m basically hopping around on one foot and bragging about it. The subtitle spells it out. Grit consists of both passion and perseverance, and I’m only really strong at one of them. Knowing this may very well change my life.
Perseverance is my trait. When I decide I want something, I will go after it with the tenacity of Michael Myers from Halloween. Or the cyborg from The Terminator. Or… it looks like there aren’t many pop culture models of perseverance who are, strictly speaking, human. Anyway. Failing at something I think is important just ticks me off. I took a class in college and got an F. My response was to take a different class from the same professor and get an A, while retaking the original class the same term with a different instructor and getting an A in that, too. I failed my driving test twice, and finally passed it with the proctor who had failed me the first time. I did my first marathon with an ankle injury and dragged my leg for the last 8 miles. Clearly I’m not satisfied with that, and I plan to take at least a full hour off my time for my second race. A marathon is no big deal in my mind, even though I’m middle-aged and slow, because my intention is to run a 50-mile ultra for my 50th birthday.
It turns out that my weak area is in passion. How embarrassing. Apparently my issues with losing interest or changing focus are grit-related. This probably explains why someone like me who will bounce back from any setback and come back swinging has yet to take over the world. I am a dilettante in my projects. I have so many unfinished art and writing projects that I don’t even have a complete list. I think this is due to two factors: my reluctance to formally declare that I’m quitting or dropping something, coupled with my equal reluctance to buckle down and finish it on a deadline.
It was Duckworth’s description of herself sometimes crying in frustration or exhaustion while working on a long-term project that really sunk in for me. Working on something over months or years can be boring and annoying. The hardest part for me is realizing that I have to scrap pages, or an entire chapter, that took me days or weeks of work. I’m going to recast this in terms of going down the trail with a bloody knee after falling and hitting my face on a rock. Grit is a transferrable skill, as the manual Grit teaches. If I believe it’s worth doing, then I should do it, and I should keep going until it is done.
One of the most valuable ideas from Grit is the idea of making a Hard Thing Rule. The rule is that everyone should do something hard over a sustained period of time. That thing should be intrinsically interesting, but it does have to be challenging. I like this. For someone like me, the focus will be more on sustaining the duration of two years without swapping to something else. For others, the focus might be more on introducing greater challenge. I can attest that attacking difficult things just for the sake of doing them makes life much more interesting. What will happen when I stick to only one thing with that level of focus? Time to find out!
Grit is a really excellent book. I read it in one sitting. It focuses on Duckworth’s research about grit, as well as research from other luminaries about talent, flow, and mindset. There is a section on developing grit in yourself, and another section about creating a culture of grit for parents, teachers, coaches, and others in leadership roles. I’m in love with this book right now and hoping it enters the great conversation about character.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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