Pictured above are some grits, dried, coursely ground corn that makes a traditional Southern porridge often served with cheese. Uncooked and dry, as pictured above, grits are tough, and you can see where the name comes from. Unfortunately, I discovered that grits are hard to come by in the grocery these days (at least on the East Coast)! Maybe that's why people lack grit in the singular: they don't eat enough of the plural.
Grit in the Globe
The Sunday Globe
today features an article by Jonah Lehrer
about the importance of grit, the ability to persevere in pursuit of long-term, obstacle-ridden goals. He cites a study by Dr. Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, who came up with a survey to measure grit, on-line at www.gritstudy.com, and used it to measure the grit of people who succeed (or don't) in difficult tasks, such as the first summer of military school at West Point and the National Spelling Bee. Duckworth found that grit was much more important than IQ for success in these tasks.
The article also describes a study by Dr. Carol Deweck, of Stanford University, who believes, in short, that grit can be taught by convincing kids that achievement comes through diligence, rather than talent and intelligence. In her study, she gave two groups of 5th graders an IQ test. After the test, she praised one group for their hard work and the other group for their intelligence. Later, she gave the children another, harder test, and the children praised for hard work persisted at answering the questions, while the children praised for smarts quickly gave up. Finally, she gave both groups another test of similar difficulty to the initial test. The group praised for hard work scored better, while the group praised for intelligence scored worse, than they had on the original test.
I had these grits with tomato, parsley, salt and pepper, and Parmesan. They came out much thicker than my mother's.
My Abstract View of Grit
I think it's true that grit is key to success. Though it may be possible to encourage long-term diligence in students and people, I think grit itself comes from within. For one, no one else, except maybe your parents, knows you long enough to provide external motivation to persist at something for years. Teachers can push students for a semester, but not for a lifetime.
More importantly, I doubt that such external pressure succeeds in motivating people to excel at something unless they truly want to already. "You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink," or "The teacher opens the door; you have to step through it yourself."
I don't think grit can be forced at all. Though it is discipline and diligence, I think grit has to come naturally, conflicting as those statements may seem. It's easy to force onself to do something for a day, month, or year. But one can't just decide to commit to a lifetime of something. Saying, "I'm committing my life to X activity," doesn't mean anything the way saying, "I'm going to devote my day to something" does. Only time will tell what you devote your life to.
I think one will persevere in the thing that one loves to do so much that one would do it for a lifetime out of love. It's probably the thing that one has always loved, even before one started thinking about careers. It's probably the thing that one enjoyed doing as a child, since a lifetime of dedication begins with childhood.
There you can see the texture of the cooked grits. They're not tough anymore. I suppose having a soft and delicious personality wouldn't be so awful, either.
Grit and My Own Life
For me, the things I've always done and enjoyed are music, writing, and dance. Many other interests of mine have developed since childhood, but those three are the things that I've always loved. Of those three interests, I have this idea that writing is the thing I should seize on and really work at because it is versatile, I'm naturally good at it, and I like it. Because I like it, I've already been fairly diligent as a writer throughout my life. I have a good start at "devoting my life to X activity."
In other words, I do have grit as a writer. I've always thought best on paper and kept journals, off and on, and written for myself, in addition to writing for school.
While I get frustrated easily and at many tasks, writing is not one of them. With the exception of 9th-grade English, I have not shed many tears over writing the way I have over other tasks and pursuits. That says a lot.
As for the other interests: I've never abandoned my love of music, but I have given up any professional aspirations as a musician. I didn't seem to have the grit to persevere at the violin. I could do it for three weeks at music camp - I'd practice more than anyone else at camp - but I couldn't do it consistently for years, the way some other students could. And as a violinist, I didn't fare well in competition. But I've never stopped loving and listening to music. My brain has continued to develop musically throughout my life.
Dance? I am not good at ballet. It's difficult for me and has not come naturally after years of training. But I do love it, and it makes me feel good, and it keeps my body in shape. It goes hand-in-hand with my love of music. I love to dance to music, and that DOES come naturally.
For the last few years, I've been diligently pursuing a scientific career as a biological researcher. I abandoned that career after I lost a job working as a technician in a lab. Lab work did not come naturally. Though it's difficult for everyone, I think it comes more naturally to other people than it does to me. Plus, and more importantly, it turns out, other people can deal better with the daily frustrations of lab work than I can. So it's not the best choice for me.
I liked science because I liked to think, and I did have a knack for asking good questions and thinking of experiments to address them. I even liked thinking about chemistry, though I wasn't great at it - with the exception of thermodynamics. In introductory chemistry in college, I easily got a 99 on the thermo exam, compared to 80's on other tests, while other people found it the most difficult topic in the course. I also excelled in physiology class and exhbited fairly good reasoning skills. When it came to designing experiments and writing about them, I really shone.
On the other hand, I could never handle the kinds of science that relied on spatial skills, such as developmental biology and stereochemistry. And I was awful at physics, organic chemistry, and advanced calculus. In orgo and calculus, part of what I lacked was diligent studying. In physics and developmental bio, I studied diligently and still struggled.
I didn't love science from childhood, but I claimed that it was because I didn't have a good science class until 10th grade biology, which I loved and excelled at. Now I am starting to think that maybe I was not naturally meant to be a scientist, and that is the reason it didn't interest me as a child.
My Optimism Always Comes Through; My Stories Have Happy Endings
It's frustrating to think that one wasn't meant to be something, especially when one doesn't have an alternative being to fall back on, or into. The idea that INSTEAD of a scientist or violinist, I was meant to be a writer is much more appealing than the idea that I simply failed at both music and science.
And Mrs. Reynolds' endoresment is key. Are you reading this? :)