Leaving a high-demanding job in consulting at the age of 27, Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist, took a job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realised IQ wasn’t the only thing separating successful students from those who struggled. Here, she explains her theory of “grit” as a predictor of success.
“I was firmly convinced that every one of my students could learn the material if they worked hard and long enough. After several more years of teaching, I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective. In education, the one thing we know how to measure best is IQ. But what if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily? So I left the classroom, and I went to graduate school to become a psychologist,” she says.
She started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings. “And in every study. My question was, who is successful here and why? My research team and I went to west point military academy. We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the national spelling bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in the competition. We partnered with private companies asking which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs and who’s going to earn the most money,” she informs.
“In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks or physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit. 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,” she continues.
As per her, grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. “A few years ago, I started studying grit in the Chicago public schools. It turned out that grittier kids were significantly more likely to graduate,” she reveals.
“The most shocking thing about grit is how little we know about it. So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called a growth mindset. It is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed and that it can change with your effort. We need to take our best ideas and our strongest intuitions, and we need to test them. We need to measure whether we’ve been successful. And we have to be willing to fail to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned. In other words, we need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier,” she concludes.