I recently came across a Ted Talks video by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who has done studies trying to figure out what is the single best predictor of success in students and adults other than IQ. She had noticed from her work as a seventh-grade math teacher that her strongest performers were not always the kids who had the highest IQ. She came to see that it wasn’t social intelligence, natural talent, good looks, or even high intelligence, like many might guess, but the quality of having grit that made all the difference.
Duckworth defines grit it as having passion, perseverance, and stamina. She says it’s looking at life and the future that you want as a marathon and not a sprint, and working really hard day in and day out to make that future look like the one you want.
Now, I may not know a lot about a lot of things, but I do know about grit.
My first year in college was abysmal. Grades wise. Otherwise, I had a great time!
Both semesters produced GPA’s under 2.0.
I really wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there. I hadn’t declared a major. All I knew is that I didn’t want to make $5 an hour for the rest of my life.
So, I was sticking it out. But, then I got a letter in the mail from my college. Seems like if I didn’t pull up my GPA, I would be taking a mandatory semester suspension. It was time to get serious. So, I landed on criminal justice or teaching.
I leaned towards teaching, but did I even like children? I didn’t know. So, I quit my job at the bank and got one at a daycare for the summer. Come to find out, children were my spirit animals.
My friends who attended that first year in college with me hadn’t done so well, either. Matter of fact, one lost her scholarship and they all dropped out. I couldn’t believe it. She had been one of the smartest kids in our school. All I know is that she was smarter than me.
So there I was, starting my second year…alone. But, I stuck it out.
Just in case you think I’m exaggerating on not being the smartest kid on the block, let me share this little gem with you. During my freshman year I took a geography class taught by a professor who used to live with the Shapeboo people (I’m certain I spelled that wrong) in the Amazon jungle. On one of our tests he asked us to name three animals that had been domesticated in Africa. I wrote down cheetah, Elephant, and zebra. Enough said. (This story still brings me so much joy because I think it’s important to laugh at one’s own stupidness.)
I should also mention that I did not pass the English or Math placement tests so I had to take a year of bonehead English and a year and a half of bonehead Math before I could take English or Math 101.
But despite all that, I persevered. The second year, I did much better. And by much better, I mean I maintained a 2.0. At the end of that year, the day after my last final, my dad passed away. It shook my world in every way.
I probably should’ve taken off that following semester, but I didn’t. I ended up with grades more terrible than my first semester. I’m talking F’s and Incompletes and D’s. My college counselor called me in to talk to me about my horrible performance. I can’t remember all the details now, but I do remember it being put something like this: You will need to take 18 credit hours and not get lower than a B to pull up your GPA and to stay on your six year plan.
Yes, six years!
You see the whole time I was in school, I worked 30 hours a week because I had to pay for my car payment and insurance. Because of this I only took the minimum hours to be considered a full-time student, which was 12. This led to me having a 6 year plan for graduating college.
But despite all that, I took the 18 credit hours and worked my 30 hour a week work shift. I brought up my GPA. And believe it or not, at the end of those six years I graduated cume laude. I’ve always said that I graduated through sweat, blood, and tears! I could go on and on, but it would all just be to point to one quality that I managed to have way more than intelligence…grit.
I’m sure you can think of similar scenarios in your life where you had to have grit to get something done. If you’ve ever succeeded in anything, I can almost guarantee you it was the grit that got you there.
So how do we teach it to our children?
How do we instill it in them?
Duckworth isn’t quite sure how grit can be manufactured, but she does believe the answer lies in children learning that when faced with challenges their failures are not a permanent condition. So, what does that mean for us as parents?
I think it means that we allow our children to face challenges and when they fail, to face them again with the knowledge they’ve gained from failing. Thus, starting again more successfully.
I think it means that we model this in our own life.
I think it means we don’t treat failing as failing but as an opportunity!
I think it means expecting failure before success.
I think it means we encourage our kids to get back up, dust their boots off, and try again. And again. And again.
I think it means letting your kids run with that idea they have about starting their “own” business. You know the one? The one where they’re scrounging around the house for old pieces of wood and nails. They come to you wanting to start making toys to sell to the neighborhood kids. So, you say sure, go ahead. They become gritty as they learn the effort it takes to implement an idea and get it off the ground. They become gritty when they learn how things don’t always go to plan, but you make the best of it anyway.
I think it means making them snap that 5 gallon bucket of green beans so you can focus on canning them. They become gritty as they learn how to stick with something they really don’t love doing, so they can eat those yummy green beans in the winter that they really do love eating.
I think it means making them honor their commitments and stick things out a little longer.
I think it’s having them set some summer goals. Maybe a year’s to-do list. And giving them that encouragement to check it off.
It’s making our kids a little tougher. Letting them figure out what they’re made of through sweat, blood, and tears…and grit!