Can you accomplish great things without grit? Probably not.
The good news is that you can get grit.
This past week psychologist, researcher Angela Lee Duckworth was awarded a MacArthur Fellows “genius” grant of $625,000, with no strings attached, because of her work on grit and self-control.
Duckworth’s research shows that the trait of grit is what makes it possible for people to work toward challenging goals over a long period of time.
In studying the traits of grit and self-control, Duckworth says self-control is important in accomplishing some measure of success, but she has found that people who accomplish great things have grit, that is, they generally combine “a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.”
Individually, most of us would like more grit. If we had more grit, we could stick with our work over a long period of time. Grit would help us in various pursuits, from the work of writing a dissertation to the long-term pursuit of losing weight and keeping it off.
Building grit: Practice matters
It is possible to expand and build our grit. According to Duckworth, we can build up our grit by using it and practicing it.
She says that a lot of things in life are like being good at playing Scrabble: “I’m not so good, but if I did a lot of practicing, I probably could be.”
She says that we can look at history to see people who have had grit, people like Lincoln, Darwin, and Picasso. The reason, she says, for their achievements “came from years and years of sustained engagement with their craft.”
Catching grit: Be inspired.
Another way to build grit is by “catching” it. We can catch grit by observing people who display a great deal of grit and by being inspired by them.
Grit is often the element of which stories are made, from the hero or heroine in a fable or adventure story to a real life story of someone who has succeeded to an amazing degree, despite incredible odds. The memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is one such story.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s story can inspire by the grit she’s shown over her life time.
She writes in My Beloved World of her determination to become a judge from the time she was small child, living in the housing projects in the Bronx, the daughter of parents who spoke very little or no English.
A hard-working, competitive high school student, she graduated as valedictorian. Yet, her high school education left her unprepared for the level of work she was expected to do when she arrived at Princeton University.
She tells of the shock she felt when told that not only did her papers lack analysis and an argument, but she was also writing incomplete sentences.
She took on the challenge presented by her deficiencies in writing. Showing grit, she bought writing and grammar books to teach herself during summer vacations. She also registered each year for a writing course with the same professor who had initially told her she couldn’t write.
Sonia Sotomayor’s story: “A textbook description of grit” (New York Times)
Justice Sotomayor’s memoir inspires on various levels, but particularly in terms of her discipline and tenacity. While she benefited from affirmative action, she built on every opportunity. She met challenges, even when she felt in over her head academically and socially, in order to reach her goal. Using her grit helped her to increase her grit.
Grit – Stay passionate; practice grit; catch grit by being inspired
The more you know what you can do to build grit, the more likely you are to meet your long-term goal.
Allowing yourself to be inspired by someone else’s work and accomplishments is a choice and helps you to build grit. Positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson writes, “Feeling inspired rivets your attention. . . It creates the urge to do your best.”
Keep a clear view of what you want to achieve. No matter how long you need to work and no matter what gets in your way, if you have grit, you will succeed. And as you continue to work toward your goal, you continue to build your grit.
What do you do to build grit? What stories of the grit of others inspire you?
I would love to hear from you.
All good wishes to you,
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com