I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms this week in the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University asking, “Are you gritty?”
Students look at me puzzled.
“What does it mean to be gritty?” I ask.
Usually, a tentative hand goes up. “Determined?”
“Yes, what else?”
“Someone who works hard?”
“Okay. Now we’re getting somewhere.
It’s passion and perseverance. It’s the thing that makes you push, keep going, working toward a goal when it gets tough or getting back up, trying again when you fail.”
And then I give them Angela Duckworth’s grit test. You can take it too. It’s simple and only works if you are honest with yourself.
Duckworth is a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who came up with the grit test after spending time as a teacher. She noticed students who should be at the top of their class, were not necessarily. And some with only moderate talent and IQs did far better than you might predict. Fascinated by this, she started looking for the quality that would predict success.
It wasn’t IQ, or good looks or economic status. It was grit.
Now, the question is, if you aren’t gritty, how can you become gritty?
There is a theory that just by teaching students how the brain works, the importance of facing challenges, looking at failures as learning opportunities, you can increase grit.
I believe this theory and am fascinated with it because, at a young age, I had a teacher confront me about not finishing anything. She sent me home with a report card that had a bunch of Incompletes on it. I was mortified. My parents asked me about this and I remember defending myself.
“I don’t know why she’s saying this. I DO finish things.”
But my parents noted my half-finished art project, homework assignment, half-made bed. I’d just quit piano lessons. Nothing was done. I flitted, as children do when I got bored or something got too hard. My teacher told me I wouldn’t accomplish anything if I didn’t finish anything.
My parents supported her assessment. I think I was lucky. That lesson stayed with me for life. I started to be aware when I wanted to quit. I started to notice I didn’t finish things and I made an effort to change that.
Later in life, I can tell you I was a successful reporter, not because I was the smartest, or prettiest. Not by a long shot. I was just the grittiest.
That was it. Passion and perseverance got me everywhere I wanted to go.
It turns out the grittiest people are the most successful in every field.
So, I think Angela Duckworth is on the right track. You can learn to be gritty. You can teach your children to be gritty.
This is why I tell students as I’m helping them to launch into the field of media and communication, be daring, be smart, but above all be gritty.