In a term of Sabbatical leave, I left a promoted position and worked in another school as a teacher. I learnt a lot. The College’s motto was Grit, Growth Grace and I had never seen the first of these associated with a school before.
A leading researcher, Dr Angela Duckworth has made studies of students, military cadets, beginning teachers and sales people, and her leading question was, ‘Who is successful here and why?’ According to Duckworth, “Grit” is a key determinant of success. She defined “Grit” as 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. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Duckworth looked at this characteristic in the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional academic sense over time. Specifically she looked at the question: “With talent and intelligence (or IQ) being equal, why do some individuals accomplish more than others?” Here are five key characteristics she found were consistently present that make up “Grit”.
Although sometimes hard to measure, it’s often proportional to our level of grit. Our ability to manage fear of failure is vital and is a predicator for our success. In other words, gritty people are not afraid to fail, but rather use it as part of learning. They get that there are necessary valuable lessons and that both being vulnerable and also persevering is required for higher achievement.
The people with grit are also not the people who mock from the sidelines or point out other people faults to make themselves feel better – they are the ones who are fully invested in what’s happening, striving, giving it their all and going all out. They are the ones who know if they do fail, they fail whilst daring to succeed.
Courage is like a muscle, it needs exercise. If ignored or avoided, it will atrophy or wither. I’m not talking about big, high-risk activities per se, but courage fuels grit – in fact they mutually feed each other. We need to exercise courage daily.
Conscientiousness means being careful, self-aware, and meticulous – whilst being achievement oriented. This is the person who works hard, tries to do a good job every time and completes the task. It is the person who not only turns up to training, but goes for gold – it’s a state of commitment.
Goals and endurance
Goals and endurance refer to the ability to commit to long term goals with real intensity and direction. Two recent complimentary studies examined the intersection between having clear goals and the necessary practice. The good (or bad!) news is that the baseline commitment to being exceptional (even with talent) was loads of practise. Both studies actually identified 10,000 hours of practice to be precise, which equates to 20 hours per week over 10 years. And this is where the goal comes in, practise must have purpose. Having a goal gives things meaning and value – it drives the passion, the courage and the stamina to have real grit.
The bottom line is we’re likely going to muck up or fall down sometime. And we’ll need to get up again. But what makes us get up? Theorists argue its resilience – the ability to maintain our core purpose and integrity amidst unforeseen shocks or surprises.
Resilience is a really dynamic combination of optimism, creativity and confidence. Optimism to believe that change and growth is possible, creativity to problem solve and confidence to understand it’s all learning. The “grit” that results is what helps us persevere and know ‘everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not yet right, it is not yet the end’.
Excellence over perfectionism
Perfectionism is someone’s perception of an ideal. At worst it can be pedantic, unforgiving and inflexible. Excellence, by contrast, is an attitude, not an endgame. The Greek word excellence comes from the word Arete which is tied to fulfilment of our purpose and fulfilling virtue. It allows for failure and vulnerability and prioritises progress over perfection. “Grit” is an attitude of seeking, of striving and finding, and it never giving up.
And here’s the secret – we already know how to do this, in fact we’ve already done it before. To explain: how did we learn to walk? We tried, fell, tried, fell, tried – until we succeeded. We’ve done it before! And we didn’t care what we looked like, who saw it We just tenaciously persevered until we conquered it.
So I think we need to change some language around our approach. We hear and well know the phrases ….
I can’t do this
This doesn’t work
I don’t know
It doesn’t make sense
I don’t get it
I’m not good at this
But let’s challenge that with something called ‘The power of YET’.
I can’t do this yet
This doesn’t work yet
I don’t know yet
It doesn’t make sense yet
I don’t get it yet
I’m not good at this yet
Let’s tell ourselves and each other it’s a journey – we might not be there YET; but we have within us the grit to be courageous, conscientious, goals oriented with an endurance and resilience that leads to excellence. We may not be there yet but we have within us the sheer tenacity to keep going.
Mr Mark Ash / Principal