Grit and Bear It

A few years ago, my daughter was struggling in math. We knew she could eventually grasp the concepts, but she was getting easily frustrated, and her grades were showing it. She also had an amazing teacher who believed in her and patiently worked with her every step of the way. When it came time for a big test, we were nervous about how she’d fare. Luckily, the test was not timed, and the teacher gave my daughter as much time as she needed. She was the last one to finish, but the teacher would not let her give up until she found an answer to every problem. My daughter happened to score great on her test, but I was worried about her future performance.

It turns out, the teacher taught my daughter more than just math concepts that year. She taught her grit, which has now been translated to confidence. Math is no longer something my daughter fears. It’s not her favorite subject, but she knows if she sticks with it, she will prevail.

Since then, I’ve heard a lot about the importance of grit. Grit is the ability to work hard, and with passion (and often in uncomfortable situations) to eventually reach the end result with success. Recently at my children’s school, parents were shown a short clip about grit that featured psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth. She has been studying grit and how it determines both academic and professional success. As a former school teacher, Duckworth noticed that IQ was not the only difference between her best and worst students. Her studies revealed that success is not dependent on learning quickly or easily, but on the ability to persevere.

Grit is such a basic and raw quality, but not everyone gets it—or has it—or praises it. Sure, we all want our kids to succeed. Of course, we want them to score high grades and/or excel in whatever activity they choose. But when the going gets rough, sometimes we give in and choose a different course. For example, if our child signs up for a sport and decides halfway through the season that he doesn’t like it, there are those of us who would let him quit (even if we’ve paid for the whole season!). Or if our child happens to get a teacher, class or coach she doesn’t like, there are those of us who might try and switch her to a different room, school or team.

Life isn’t always fair and can present us with tough situations. But if we keep swooping in to shelter our kids from these situations—instead of letting them work through it—we are not doing our kids any favors later in life.

I’ll be the first to admit I am not always the grittiest parent. But I am a firm believer in Duckworth’s theory that grit is a key ingredient to success. Of course, someone who is extremely gritty may still experience failure, and that is OK, too. But I have to believe that whenever you add grit to skill, talent, and/or IQ, your chances for success have to be greater.

I’m pretty sure my kids will not grow up to be the next Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey! But I certainly hope they will grow up with the same determined work ethic. And as much as I will hate to see it, I hope they experience failure sooner than later, so they can learn how to pick themselves up, start over, and work that much harder. All of that builds grit.

I love this quote from Angela Lee Duckworth, “Grit is like living life as a marathon, not as a sprint.” It’s a great metaphor to support her theory that success is not dependent on learning quickly or easily, but on the ability to persevere.