Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
“There are two types of successful people in life.” It was our first week at secondary school – I was eleven years old. Our history teacher - an impressive, Thatcher-esque lady - was giving us a pep-talk to enthuse and inspire us through the next seven years at the Guernsey Grammar School. Perhaps no-one else in that classroom was paying much attention, but that speech made a huge impression on me, and has stayed with me ever since.
“There are two types of successful people in life. Some people are successful from the start – they have huge amounts of natural talent. Straight A students. But this doesn't always last. Sometimes these bright young things rest on their laurels, put down their success to natural talent and shirk on good, honest hard work. Later in life – maybe when they do their GCSE's, their A Levels, or at a point in time much further on – this natural talent can run out, and then so does their success.
The other type of successful people are the long-gamers. Maybe they don't do so well to begin with – maybe they don't get straight A's, or any A's at all. But they work hard – they work to reach their goals and really earn their success, whatever field it may be in. That is the kind of success that can last a lifetime – having a good work ethic.”
I knew right then, more decided than knew, that I was that second kind of person. I was bright, but not endowed with unlimited resources of natural academic talent. I knew I would have to work hard if I wanted to do well. In secondary school I had a number of friends like those 'natural straight A students' my teacher had described – a group of people which Angela Duckworth describes as 'fragile perfects' – people who are so used to getting it right that, when it eventually goes wrong, it's almost impossible for them to pick themselves up again. I wasn't going to be like that. Sitting there in that classroom at the age of eleven, I made the decision to impress upon myself a perseverance in all I did, and foster a hard-working attitude. From that moment on, grit was in my soul.
I first came across Angela Duckworth on the Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), which is run by the Relay Graduate School of Education on the Coursera platform. It's a really awesome course (whether you're a teacher or not) and one of the best MOOC's I've ever done. Check it out. Anyway, Duckworth was a key speaker on this course and so I decided to explore her research further. When I found out she was writing a book, I pre-ordered it.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was published in 2016. At a first glance, it may seem like one of those awful self-help books that are so popular nowadays. I promise you, Duckworth's 'grit book' is nothing like that at all. For starters, Angela Duckworth is an expert in her field. She's dedicated her life to this subject, and the book is crammed full of research, case studies and more to back up that she really, truly knows what she's on about. Also, it's a New York Times bestseller, so clearly I'm not the only person who loves this book!
What I really like about the 'grit book' is that it debunks the myth that talent = achievement. As my wise history teacher also told us, doing well in something isn't all down to a natural ability that you seem to have been born with. Talent is unfair – some people seem to be born with a flair which other people don't have. But grit is egalitarian. Grit is for everyone, and what's more, grit itself can also be practised and 'learnt'. Even talented people need to work hard to turn their talent into something truly remarkable – babies aren't born with 10,000 hours of purposeful practice in the thing they so happen to excel in. As Duckworth says, 'without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential'.
So who should read the 'grit book'? I'd say that anyone who wants to succeed should consider picking this up, whether it's a student trying to get top marks, a businessman trying to get a promotion, a kid with a guitar who wants to be a rock star, or anyone with any sort of hobby they'd like to get better at. Don't be fooled into thinking that this book is just for people who want to be famous or get rich from their talent – the case studies focus on all kinds of people and their achievements are broadly varied. The only thing they have in common is the perseverance they've applied to their life passion, and where that gritty attitude has gotten them.
So what have I taken away from the book? After all, I started this review by saying that I have always tried to foster a hard working attitude of perseverance in all I do, so what's new? There are several key things that I've learnt, and I think one of the main ones is basically to remember to be gritty. It's all very well to say yeah I'm going to work hard on this but that's not actually an action plan, is it? Duckworth's research made me realise that just working hard isn't enough – you need to have goals, a strategy, a realistic aim which you predict you can make if you work at it. Also, the importance of purposeful practice. Just sitting at the piano chiming out the same little ditty for 10,000 hours isn't going to turn you into Rachmaninoff – your practice needs to get incrementally more difficult in order for you to improve. Also, I'm a big fan of inspirational quotes to get back on track and remind me what I'm actually doing, so to read things like 'To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice' is exactly the kind of boost I need to say oh yeah, gritty attitude, I'm on it! Another thing which I love about the 'grit book' is that it is clearly well-researched, and uses a lot of big 'sciencey' words that I don't understand, but the book is so well-written that it is accessible to all readers.
If you're still not sure if the 'grit book' is your kind of thing, check out Duckworth's TED talk (and her other talks available online) to learn more about her area of research. Whether you're hoping to foster a grittier attitude yourself, or help to encourage one in your students or children, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is an awesome read.
For more information on Angela Duckworth and her work, as well as TED talk links, FAQ etc, visit her website.