Angela Duckworth’s Grit was featured at the 2017 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. This book serves as a summary of the research she had done on grit, which she defines as the combination of passion and perseverance. Duckworth also conducted a TED Talk regarding her research (I personally didn’t watch it because I wanted to strictly review the book. When I finish writing this review I’ll check it out!). If you want more information about success, read on for my review!
What drew me to the book at first was Duckworth’s anecdote of her father telling her that she was not a genius, and that she never will be a genius. Normally, this denotes future failure, but Angela uses this comment from her father to challenge her to redefine success. Angela is currently a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, but she has a colorful resume filled with doctorates, self-initiated organizations, and awards. So if you’re not smart, does that mean you can never be successful? If you don’t have raw talent, does that mean that you can never be the best? As Duckworth would argue, raw talent alone does not define success. What really matters is your passion and your perseverance, which are both driven by interest, practice, purpose, and hope.
As a lover of statistics, research, and case studies, I ate up Duckworth’s case studies from the companies and programs that we would label “successful.” From studying the initiation program at West Point to interviewing the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, one question is echoed throughout the book: What yields success within these people? The answer, of course, is grit. Throughout the book, Duckworth interviews various “grit paragons” (people who exemplify grit) and discovers what drives them to pursue grit, even if they don’t directly use the term “grit” to describe their motivation. Her goal, it seems, is to overthrow the cultural norm that raw talent will yield success. When we have that mindset, we are doomed at childhood. Conversely, Duckworth advocates that we must find our “one thing” and work at it until we’ve reached our full potential.
Although the interviews and research span throughout the entire book, Duckworth shifts mid-way through the book to talk to the reader about how to cultivate grit. The second section of the book gives advice on growing grit “from the inside out.” Duckworth encourages the reader to nurture interest, practice, purpose, and hope, qualities that we must intrinsically decide to pursue. Even if someone instills the desire to pursue those things within us, we must be willing to take the step toward success. As the old adage claims, you can bring a camel to the water, but you cannot make it drink.
The third section of the book discusses how to cultivate grit “from the outside in.” Duckworth discusses her experience raising her two daughters to pursue a grit mindset. In addition to her own parenting style, she also includes case studies that compare how Steve Young (quarterback of the San Francisco 49’ers) and Francesca Martinez (British stand-up comedian, actress, and writer) were raised by their parents. She offers advice for parents to encourage their children toward success. She challenges even those who are not raising children to invest in the lives of the children/youth around us. The term parent, Duckworth mentions, actually means “to bring forth.” Whether you have children that you are currently raising, or you’re babysitting, coaching, or teaching, you can influence them to pursue success.
As with most scientific research, the book ends in a question mark, but also an exclamation point. What I mean is, Duckworth cannot conclusively provide a definite formula that will yield grit (and thus, success) in each of our lives. However, she does make a point that grit is important, and that no one has ever regretted growing grit in their own lives. Therefore, you can’t go wrong when you’re gritty.
My knowledge of statistics involves one AP Statistics class in my senior year of high school (a whopping seven years ago!). However, I know good research when I see it. Angela Duckworth provides information from a variety of programs: from sports teams, to musicians, to writers, to teachers and students, that will inspire hope that success can be found in any area of work. In journalism, I learned to beware the one-sourced story. Not only does Duckworth interview a number of “grit paragons,” but she also indicates that her students have helped her in her research as well. So, it’s not as if she is pushing her own agenda; she also has students that have dedicated time and energy to prove the importance and efficiency of grit.
I have taken away much of the information in her book to apply to my own life. I’ve begun to pursue “my life’s purpose” by following a guideline that she includes from Warren Buffett: 1) Write down twenty-five career goals; 2) Do some “soul-searching” (whatever that means) and circle your top five goals; 3) Look at the other twenty you didn’t circle, and avoid those at all costs. I have my top five, and I’ve been pursuing them for about a month now!
My other takeaway would be to develop a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Through reading this book, I realized that I had a fixed mindset as a child. I was the best reader in kindergarten, and the best writer in first and second grade. At that young age, I didn’t see any need for improvement. However, this mindset caused me to respond poorly to criticism and adversity in writing. I remember not wanting to write an essay for my final eighth grade English project and just barely passing the final. I remember my teachers in high school rolling their eyes when I told them I wanted to be a writer. I remember my eleventh-grade English teacher accusing me of plagiarism because the paper I wrote was just too good to be my paper. I remember refusing to study English in college because I was sick of the judgment and criticism. Through this book, I’ve discovered that I could have used that negativity to challenge me to be a better writer. While I can’t go back and change the future, I can start today (and have started) to improve my writing skills and pursue my life’s purpose. I thank Angela Duckworth for writing this portion and for helping to alter the course of my life.
To counter Duckworth’s book, however, I would speak on behalf of those looking for fulfillment in their jobs. Most people my age are at entry level jobs; some are even at retail jobs that have nothing to do with their career. We are enticed on social media with the idea that we can be anything we want to be. We can make money traveling the world, staying at home taking surveys, or going out to eat at restaurants, so the typical office job does not sound exciting to us. However, at the end of the day, we still have to work. We still need jobs that pay the bills. Grit, actually pursuing what we were made to accomplish, will take years to get us to our full potential. What does that mean for our lives now? What is that first step to pursue grit? Do we simply keep working at our entry-level jobs until someone magically shows up and offers us a position in our field, or do we quit our jobs on the spot and look for a job more fitting for our passions (or do we take an action that’s a little less extreme)? Duckworth’s book is brilliantly inspiring, but when the honeymoon stage fades, we’re left to wonder: What next?
I don’t believe that Duckworth meant to answer every question about success. She claims to have a lot of research under her belt, but even with decades of work, she still cannot conclusively give a formula for success. What I think she meant to do was to start a conversation. I think she wants to change the atmosphere and to change our society’s way of thinking. Talent is not what defines success, according to Duckworth; what defines success is the work you put into improving yourself.
A Christian Perspective
Before I conclude with a Christian perspective, I want to clarify that Duckworth does not claim any religious affiliation in her book. This section is designated for me, as a Christian, to put in my two cents about the topic. This is not an attack on Duckworth’s beliefs or research; this is simply me asking God, How do you want me to interpret this with the lens You’ve given me?
While reading the book, all I could think about was Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man.” This verse, in and of itself, defines grit. God created us for a purpose on this Earth. While most of us spend a large amount of time figure out if we are living out our purpose, God reveals our purpose in this verse. It doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we are working as hard as we can with God as our focus. This verse should encourage us to pursue grit (passion and perseverance) naturally by causing us to put our hearts into our work, as well as to never give up.
The conclusion of this book, that there is no definite formula for grit and success, can be discouraging to the average person. If we dedicate our whole lives to pursuing grit, and then realize that we still “missed the mark,” we may wonder, what was the point? However, I believe looking at this through a Christian lens does provide a definite formula for success. Proverbs 16:3 explicitly states this formula: “Commit your way to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” When we work for the Lord, we’re not trying to figure out our own life’s purpose; rather, we’re trusting God to show us the way. This way is not void of adversity, difficulty, and even failure. But God can use the struggles that we endure to grow us and to bring Him glory.
My conclusion? Pursue success as God defines it: use the passion and energy that God has given you to carry out the Great Commandment to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself, all for the glory of God.
Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016. Print.