Is Having Grit the Key to Success?
Yesterday, my youngest son started kindergarten. Academically, according to the assessment his teacher conducted last week, he’s ready. After attending daycare as an infant, and pre-school as a toddler, he’s ready socially too. He’s successfully moved from his ferociously fabulous four, to a fitting five, and is starting to experience all the growth that being five brings.
In my humble opinion, he’s poised for success. He has a unique, funny, creative albeit quirky personality. He’s likable, but doesn’t particularly care if anyone likes him. He makes friends quickly and easily, and isn’t afraid to just be himself. He loves playing with friends but is content playing alone too. He’s flexible but holds his ground, which has proven to be an interesting combination that will serve him well later in life.
Like all parents, I want so much for my children. I want the best for them. I want them to succeed in everything they do. I want to protect them from mean kids, mean teachers, mean friends, mean girlfriends, and mean bosses. But I know, despite my best effort, this is impossible.
Last year, someone shared with me a fascinating Ted Talk that claims the key to success is grit. This concept changed my perspective. Yes, I still want to protect my children from all the negative experiences in life. I am a mother first and foremost. But, after listening to Angela Lee Duckworth’s Ted Talk, I also want my children to have grit, and if I want them to have it, I’ll have to instill it.
What is Grit?
Corporate consultant turned 7th grade math teacher turned psychologist, Duckworth found through various studies that doing well in school and in life depends on much more than the ability to learn quickly and easily. It takes grit.
She defines grit as passion and perseverance for very long term goals, having stamina, sticking with your future day in and day out, and working really hard to make it a reality. I’d add to her definition, being resilient especially when faced with adversity.
Duckworth claims that simply having talent doesn’t make you “gritty.” In fact, her research indicates that many talented individuals don’t follow through on their commitments, and that grit is actually unrelated or inversely related to measures of talent. Loosely translated, perseverance, stamina, and “sticking” really doesn’t have anything to do with talent but arguably it is equally, if not more, critical for success.
So if we want our kids to be successful and if having grit (i.e. passion, perseverance, stamina and resilience) is part of the recipe, how do we instill it?
Duckworth says part of instilling grit is by adopting a growth mindset. Developed by Stanford University, growth mindset is the belief that the ability to learn isn’t fixed, but can change with your effort. When kids understand that the brain changes and grows in response to challenge, they are more likely to persevere when they fail because they stop believing the failure is a permanent condition. She ends the talk here, stating that a growth mindset isn’t enough and that we need more. She challenges us to be grittier about making our kid gritty.
With my youngest entering kindergarten and gearing up for a big transition, I reacquainted myself with the Ted Talk, and realized I’m pretty gritty, and with that in mind, vowed to make my kids grittier.
This doesn’t mean I won’t help them when they need help. But it means that I’m going to garner enough of my own grit to allow them to be (age) appropriately independent, to fight their own battles with friends, negotiate their own terms with teachers, experience consequences that might not be fair, and to fail if it’s warranted. I’ll teach them how to cope, create boundaries, and problem solve without solving for them.
I don’t think it will be easy, but I want my kids to be successful and I want them to have grit because with it, I know they’ll make it – no matter what.