If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Posted by SIMON on Feb 28, 2016


“Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out”- Angela Lee Duckworth, a young and successful management consultant turned teacher turned psychologist, a fair few careers in a not so long span for someone who preaches the importance of sticking at something (disclaimer: I know nothing of Angela’s age, goals or personal circumstance and this comment was made in attempt at light wit rather than serious analysis)

I would really love to get my hands on one of Angela and gang’s “Grit tests” with some analysis about why the questions asked were asked, I find the whole subject fascinating but unfortunately found Angela’s ted talk lacking as it seems to be a 21st century re-branding of the classic “Hard work = success”, albeit a little more descriptive (Hard work over a long period of time = success?)

I think my biggest problem with this idea, is “grit” seems to measure the ability to persist at something but not the ability to identify what you are persisting at and could end up hampering a student’s drive to pursue something they love and instead pursue a preconceived idea of what they should be doing and as long as they are pushing themselves then proponents of “grit” will be pleased.

In an article written by Duckworth, she quotes actor Will Smith:

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things — you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple…” 


And don’t get me wrong, I understand why she is using this quote, I even somewhat agree with the notion that hard work is more important than natural talent, but she inadvertently highlights my problem with “grit”, Is it best to die on a treadmill or better to get off the treadmill and find a more suitable, more enjoyable Stairmaster and live a long, healthy and happy life?

I am also slightly concerned that this idea of “grit” that measured great correlation with academic performance and how likely you are to persist the West Point training programme simply means that these “gritty” students/cadets are more successful at ONE idea of success,  it would be reckless to state that being academically successful (for which I have previously stated in prior thinkpieces is flawed at the moment, to be academically successful you have to be good at following rules and remembering equations, I wonder how this “grit” test would correlate if a much more creative maths curriculum was introduced as suggested in my “Organic Mathematics piece”) means you are more likely to achieve your long term goals than say someone who isn’t motivated by career success but rather family achievements.

If a student starts to learn the violin at a young age but later on decides they would much rather play the saxophone would that student have the celebrated “grit” trait if they stuck at the violin and the one who jumped ship to the saxophone not show much “grit”?

I really did not want to take such a negative approach to this idea of “grit”, I’m just not entirely sure there is a way to measure success when success is has a separate definition for every single person, ultimately “grit” is just a set of priorities and values and Angela Duckworth (and team)’s set of priorities focus on academic success in the classroom based on what is widely considered academic success at the moment (good test scores, grades)

I would however like “grit” to be more of a measurement positive self worth (although I’m not entirely sure it’s quantifiable!), understanding that failure is a huge part of success, identifying when something Isn’t working to be able to move on with something else and lastly being able to understand that you don’t have to know exactly where you want to be in the long term and that you can work hard in the present even without big set goals (working hard to be a well-rounded person even without clear goals is, in my opinion, the definition of Grit)

1 Comment

  1. pepsmccrea
    8 March 2016

    Sorry, I missed this yesterday. Very interesting article. Some pretty powerful critique here, not only in the limits of the ideas presented (and how they are argued), but in the presentation of a more viable alternative. You final sentence is super interesting… will be thinking about this all week! Keep up the good writing

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