What's a "Grit" Anyways?

Updated: Jul 31

The personality trait that most leads to success.


Happy New Year and congratulations everyone! We made it to another year. As we celebrate the opportunities the New Year affords us, it’s also appropriate to reflect on the successes and the failures of the year past and ask ourselves, “What will keep me moving forward in the year ahead?”


Scholars have been trying to identify what personality traits most lead to achievement and success for centuries. Aristotle spoke of the virtue of tenacity. Werner and Zollis spoke of resiliency. Mischel spoke of self-control and the ability to delay gratification. I like Angela Duckworth’s more recent concept of “grit.”



"GRIT IS LIVING LIFE AS A MARATHON, NOT AS A SPRINT." ANGELA DUCKWORTH




When I hear the word “grit,” I always think of that Joe Pesci film, “My Cousin Vinnie.” For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about an inexperienced Brooklyn attorney who has to defend his cousin against a murder charge in a small Alabama town. It emerges pretty quickly that Vinnie is not the most talented attorney, and all the cards are stacked against him, but (spoiler alert!) he gets the murder charge dismissed. One of the film’s earliest scenes gives us a clue how. After Vinnie and his girlfriend are served breakfast in a local dinner, Vinnie looks down at his plate and asks, “What's a grit anyways?” Of course, he was referring to the hominy grits on his plate, but as the film proceeds, we soon learn that Vinnie has true grit.

What is “grit?” Angela Duckworth described what she concluded comprises grit in her NYT best selling book and popular TED Talk, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.”

When she was a seventh grade math teacher, Duckworth had observed that her most academically successful students weren’t always those who scored the highest on intelligence tests and visa-versa. Later, to validate her two-factor "Grit Scale" in graduate school, Duckworth conducted multiple studies of West Point U.S. Military Academy Cadets, Ivy League college undergraduates and Scripts Spelling Bee contestants. Duckworth and her colleagues found that the West Point cadets who scored higher on the Grit Scale had higher retention rates than their peers who scored lower, even when other factors like SAT scores and high school rankings were controlled for. Likewise, grit was a better predictor than other factors of higher GPAs of the Ivy League students and higher final rankings of the spelling bee contestants.

One of the conclusions Duckworth drew from her research is that success is less about innate ability and more about sustained interest and effort over time-passion and perseverance. As a society we tend to over evaluate the role of talent and under evaluate the role of effort in achieving success despite obstacles. Sadly, these limiting beliefs can keep us from setting goals or trying to learn new things in areas we feel we don't have innate ability, but none the less may feel very passionately about.


That’s why in the New Year, I’m resolving be gritty like Vinnie, because he knew though he wasn’t the most skilled or experienced attorney, if he believed in himself and put forth enough effort, he would ultimately be successful. As Vinnie points out in the climactic court room scene, "There are no magic grits." Success takes sustained interest and effort over time. As Angela Duckworth put it, "Grit is living life as a marathon, not as a sprint."






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