If you were to ask a group of parents what’s one thing they’d like to see in their child’s future, a high proportion would probably say ‘success’. So what might success look like for some? High grades? Awards?
A leading researcher, Dr Angela Duckworth has made studies of students, military cadets, beginning teachers and sales people, and her leading question was, ‘Who is successful here and why?’ From her work, a characteristic that emerged as a significant predictor of success wasn’t social intelligence, good looks, physical health, IQ, family income or even how safe children felt at school – the leading characteristic was something called ‘grit’.
So what is grit? Well according to Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
As Duckworth looked at this characteristic, it was in the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional academic sense over time. Specifically she looked at the question: With talent and intelligence (or IQ) being equal, why do some individuals accomplish more than others? Here’s a few key characteristics she found were consistently present:
Although sometimes hard to measure, it’s often proportional to our level of grit. Basically our ability to manage fear of failure is vital and is a predicator for our success. In other words, gritty people are not afraid to fail, but rather use it as part of learning. They get that there are necessary valuable lessons and that both being vulnerable and also persevering is required for higher achievement.
The people with grit are also not the people who mock from the sidelines or point out other people faults to make themselves feel better – they are the ones who are fully invested in what’s happening, striving, giving it their all and going all out. They are the ones who know if they do fail, they fail whilst daring to succeed.
Clinical fear of failure (or atychiphobia) can be debilitating and unhealthy. Fighting anxiety and perfectionism is awful but not insurmountable. There is also good news, and this is best summed up in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do something that scares you every day”.
See courage is like a muscle, it needs exercise. If ignored or avoided, it will atrophy or wither. I’m not talking about big, high-risk activities per se, but courage fuels grit – in fact they mutually feed each other. Exercise courage daily.
In this case it means being careful, self-aware, and meticulous – whilst being achievement oriented. This is the person who works hard, tries to do a good job every time and completes the task. It is the person who not only turns up to training, but goes for gold – it’s a state of commitment.
Goals and endurance
In this case we are talking about the ability to commit to long term goals with real intensity and direction. Two recent complimentary studies of peoples’ capacity to influence others (looking at people such as the Beatles, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the incredible influencers of their time) and the intersection between having clear goals and the necessary practise. The good (or bad!) news is that the baseline commitment to being exceptional (even with talent) was loads of practise. Both studies actually identified 10,000 hours of practice to be precise, which equates to 20 hours per week over 10 years. And this is where the goal comes in, practise must have purpose. Having a goal gives things meaning and value – it drives the passion, the courage and the stamina to have real grit.
The bottom line is you’re likely going to muck up or fall down sometime. And you’ll need to get up again. But what makes you get up? Theorists argue its resilience – the ability to maintain your core purpose and integrity amidst all the unforeseen shocks or surprises.
Resilience is a really dynamic combination of optimism, creativity and confidence. Optimism to believe that change and growth is possible, creativity to problem solve and confidence to understand it’s all learning. This hardiness or grit that results is what helps us persevere and know ‘everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not yet right, it is not yet the end’.
Excellence over perfectionism
Perfectionism is someone’s perception of an ideal. At worst it can be pedantic, unforgiving and inflexible. Excellence, by contrast, is an attitude, not an endgame. The Greek word excellence comes from the word Arete which is tied to fulfilment of our purpose and fulfilling virtue. It allows for failure and vulnerability and prioritises progress over perfection. Grit is an attitude of seeking, of striving and finding, and it never giving up.
And here’s the secret – you already know how to do this, in fact you’ve already done it before. To explain: how did you learn to walk? You tried, fell, tried, fell, tried – until you succeeded. You’ve done it before! And you didn’t care what you looked like, who saw it (although your parents may or may not have posted it on social media!). You just tenaciously persevered until you conquered it.
So I think we need to change some language around our approach. We hear and well know the phrases ….
I can’t do this
This doesn’t work
I don’t know
It doesn’t make sense
I don’t get it
I’m not good at this
But let’s challenge that with something called ‘The power of YET’.
I can’t do this yet
This doesn’t work yet
I don’t know yet
It doesn’t make sense yet
I don’t get it yet
I’m not good at this yet
Let’s tell ourselves and each other it’s a journey – we might not be there YET; but we have within us the grit to be courageous, conscientious, goals oriented with an endurance and resilience that leads to excellence. We may not be there yet but we have within us the sheer tenacity to keep going.
Principal – Senior School