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Learning about grit

When someone is said to have grit, I’ve always taken it to be a synonym for determination. The words have similar meanings. Grit is defined as a “firmness of mind; invincible spirit; unyielding courage or fearlessness; fortitude;” while determination is “the quality of mind which reaches definite conclusions; decision of character; resoluteness.”

Not exactly the same, but the ideas are similar. I guess what matters most isn’t the word you assign to it. What matters is the person who is behind the word itself.

I recently finished “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth who has degrees in psychology and has helped develop what is called “The Grit Scale.”

The book is a culmination of her years of studying the topic, and it made for an interesting read. Duckworth applied the ideas to a wide range of areas, but one of the most prominent examples is the West Point Academy.

West Point can trace its roots back to the 1800s and is known as one of the toughest programs in which to be admitted. The cadets are chosen following a two-year application process, which selects only the most talented — the best of the best. However, some of the top-rated recruits still fail to make it through the first step — cadet basic training, aka Beast Barracks.

Duckworth was a part of the team that explored why this was happening, and the answer came in the form of the Grit Scale. It was discovered talent isn’t the best indicator in how well a person will succeed, it’s only part of the equation.

I took the Grit Scale and scored a 4.2 out of 5. Apparently I have some grit, but I still don’t see myself as gritty as some of the people Duckworth discussed in the book. I could never relate with the likes of Pete Carroll or Jeff Bezos, two people she brought up frequently in the book.

I can’t get the point across as well as Duckworth (you’ll have to read the book), but what spoke to me was an emphasis on effort and perseverance. These principles have guided me through several moments in my life, the difficult ones in particular. I don’t pretend to have a wide-reaching impact. My struggles will never be made into books or movies. The only people who will even know about them are my family and close friends.

Duckworth made a point that grit can be cultivated, and that is where I could really relate. Gritty people are those who do something difficult and don’t quit. She used playing sports or learning a musical instrument as examples. I’ve done both of those.

I had a hard time reading music when I first started playing the clarinet, but I knew quitting wasn’t an option. I stuck with it and played until I graduated high school. I was involved in sports since elementary school. I had my struggles in each sport I played, but I never quit. The only thing I ever quit was dance team. It turns out I am not a dancer, but I still competed the season before I did. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building grit in these settings.

Wise parenting is one of the reasons. Duckworth described this as supportive, yet demanding parents who show interest in their child’s goals. It was like she was talking about my Mom and Dad. My parents supported me through everything, but they never let me take the easy way out. I didn’t have to be the best, I just had to do my best and not give up.

I always thought they taught me determination to succeed. Apparently, I was using the wrong word. I owe all my grittiness to my parents. I may never be a Pete Carroll, Jeff Bezos or a West Point grad, but I’ll use my grit to accomplish my own goals and never give up.

Contact Pam Rodgers

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