I read Past Bedtime



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Image Source:  https://angeladuckworth.com/

Image Source:  https://angeladuckworth.com/

Grit. What is it and do you have it? Angela Duckworth is answering these questions in her bestselling book.

Duckworth is a psychologist in possession of the dubiously named ‘Genius Grant’, who describes her passion as ‘using psychological science to help kids thrive’. To be honest, though, I think her advice is relevant (and potentially life-changing) whatever age you are. 

So, what exactly is grit?

Undoubtedly, you’ve met a few gritty people through the years. They’re the tryers – the ones who keep pounding away at a task through successive failures, whose response to a problem is ‘I need to try something different’ not ‘I need to try something else’ and whose successes are always foreshadowed by insanely hard work.

Through years of studying gritty people compared to their competitors, Duckworth has formed a sort of formula for grit:

How successful you are in life is determined a little bit by talent, but a lot by how hard you are prepared to work for something.


Hard work and perseverance > Talent.

Sounds like common sense? Well, what’s interesting is how few of us are really using grit to our advantage in our daily lives.

The appeal of being a natural

Duckworth discusses our obsession with genius and ‘natural’ talent – we seem to appreciate someone who appears born gifted more than someone who has worked to achieve the same thing.

Why? One suggestion is that it’s easier for us to justify our own failings (or lack of great success to date) if we assume that those achieving at the highest level were somehow born into it, rather than having worked hard for years to achieve it.

Similarly, if things don’t go our way, it can be all too easy to assume that we’re just not suited to the subject or career in question, rather than persevering to improve on our raw abilities.

One reason that most of us are somewhat lacking in the grit department? Being gritty is hard work.

According to Duckworth, it can take as long as ten years for someone to become an expert in their field.

In a case study of New York Times Cartoonist, Robert Mankoff, Duckworth describes how his cartoons were rejected two thousand times before he was offered a regular drawing gig. Mankoff was clearly one gritty individual.

So, should the less gritty among us, talent or no, just throw in the towel and let the hard workers get on with it?

As a former teacher, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Duckworth isn’t letting anyone get away with that mentality.

The good news? Grit, like talent, isn’t a finite reservoir that we are born with, but a skill that can be trained.

The first step is to see you how measure up on the grit scale. Already pretty gritty? Then you can move on to deciding what it actually is you’re prepared to work hard at (‘interest’) and how can it be applied to do something meaningful in society (‘purpose’).

The less gritty among us might want to start flexing our grit muscles by practising sticking at a few tasks…

Right. You’ve had my handy summary. Do you need to go out and buy the book?

I would really recommend Duckworth’s book to anyone in search of a ‘passion’, or who has found one but is worried about pursuing a creative/competitive industry for fear of failure.

Duckworth’s writing is accessible and her advice practical. There’s also a handy section on ‘parenting for grit’ that I understandably skipped.

If you’re ready to get stuck in, read an excerpt here.

Ultimately, though, the advice is simple: find out what you love, and then stop at nothing to be the best at it that you can be.