Currently, I’m midway through two books. One’s fiction (The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford) and the other is nonfiction (Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth). I first encountered Duckworth’s research in one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, so when I saw the cover of Grit at the library, I snatched it up.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of grit, then here’s the gist.
Passion + Perseverance = Grit
As she explains to a young entrepreneur early in the book, it’s not just doing what you love (passion). It’s doing what you love and staying in love with it. It’s consistency over time. That’s not easy. (Ask any couple who have been married five or six decades.)
I suppose that most people, if asked, would like to be gritty. But . . . those distractions. Setbacks. All that hard work. I’m just not good at that, they lament. “That” could be math homework or writing or a particular sport or an aspect of their job. And because I’m not good at it now, I’ll never be good at it.
On the flip side, there are people who are wondrously talented. No challenges get in their way through childhood or adolescence; people gush over their talent. But then something comes along and–wham! Failure. And they give up. They don’t know how to continue.
Duckworth, drawing on the work of Carol Dweck, says that this is a “fixed mindset.” Both sets of people think that their innate ability/inability to do (whatever it is) is fixed. It can’t grow. They’ll always be as bad or good at that task as they are now.
Recently, my daughter, who is on the varsity tennis team at school, told us a story at dinner. We were discussing two of the boys on the guys’ team. Let’s call them X and Y. Both are the same age, both were new to tennis last year, and as you’d expect, they were ranked low on the team. Only the top 6 players get to play official matches. X, who was slightly better, was ranked #6. Y was #7.
My daughter said that X never worked hard at tennis: he didn’t like running, ditched practice at least once (this year) because it was “crap”, and barely made it on time to his match for sectionals. In contrast Y worked hard. He took lessons outside of practice; he got better. (His balls still go over the fence, yeah, but not as much as before!) But X has a fixed mindset.
“He takes for granted that he will always be seeded higher than Y.”
-my 13-year-old daughter’s complaint
My daughter and another tennis friend urged Y to challenge X to a match in hopes that Y could be moved up a seed. Alas, the match was cut short. But my daughter maintains that Y could’ve beaten X. As Y took lessons all summer, I imagine that he will.
People become better at things through deliberate practice. That’s not just any old practice: hitting the ball over and over without improvement, for example. It involves intense, often painful, practice that works on a particular component that is just a bit beyond their ability (call it a stretch goal), gets feedback, and seeks to improve with each repetition. Recognizing and applying this are key to having a “growth mindset.”
So perseverance is a huge part of this grit equation. But so is passion.
We don’t necessarily recognize our passion when we first encounter it. There’s spark: hey, that looks interesting. Then comes practice. And more practice. After a while, we seek to do this thing not just for ourselves but because we see how it benefits others. And then, finally, we find hope that these efforts can make us stronger. That when we fail, we can get back up. (We often need help with getting back up.) That out of those failures–the missed shots, the rejection letters, the setbacks–can come success.
There’s so much more in this book: about helping others develop grit, for example, and developing it within ourselves.
As for myself, I’ve decided to apply the principles of Grit to my own writing. I’ve often told myself that I’m a lousy blogger: too inconsistent in posting, too interested in writing fiction to bother with non, too focused on maintaining momentum in novel drafts to hit pause and type up anything of substance. Besides: my depression! my fatigue! my mania! I’m not a great blogger.
Fine. I’m not a great blogger yet. But I can improve. There is a definite skills set in successful blogging, just as there is in fiction writing, non-fiction writing, poetry. I have to learn, and that means deliberate practice: a clearly defined stretch goal (look at what skills I lack); full concentration & effort (no peeking at Pinterest!); getting informative feedback (listening to the advice of more successful writers); repetition with reflection and refinement (do it again, only better).
How about you? Have you read Grit? What things have you persevered at and improved in your own life? What skills would you like to develop?
And, hey, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, what blogging skills can I improve? I love–okay, need more than love–feedback.