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Grit
Author:Angela Duckworth

Grit by Angela Duckworth




For Jason





PREFACE





Growing up, I heard the word genius a lot.

It was always my dad who brought it up. He liked to say, apropos of nothing at all, “You know, you’re no genius!” This pronouncement might come in the middle of dinner, during a commercial break for The Love Boat, or after he flopped down on the couch with the Wall Street Journal.

I don’t remember how I responded. Maybe I pretended not to hear.

My dad’s thoughts turned frequently to genius, talent, and who had more than whom. He was deeply concerned with how smart he was. He was deeply concerned with how smart his family was.

I wasn’t the only problem. My dad didn’t think my brother and sister were geniuses, either. By his yardstick, none of us measured up to Einstein. Apparently, this was a great disappointment. Dad worried that this intellectual handicap would limit what we’d eventually achieve in life.

Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, sometimes called the “genius grant.” You don’t apply for the MacArthur. You don’t ask your friends or colleagues to nominate you. Instead, a secret committee that includes the top people in your field decides you’re doing important and creative work.

When I received the unexpected call telling me the news, my first reaction was one of gratitude and amazement. Then my thoughts turned to my dad and his offhand diagnoses of my intellectual potential. He wasn’t wrong; I didn’t win the MacArthur because I’m leagues smarter than my fellow psychologists. Instead, he had the right answer (“No, she’s not”) to the wrong question (“Is she a genius?”).

There was about a month between the MacArthur call and its official announcement. Apart from my husband, I wasn’t permitted to tell anyone. That gave me time to ponder the irony of the situation. A girl who is told repeatedly that she’s no genius ends up winning an award for being one. The award goes to her because she has discovered that what we eventually accomplish may depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent. She has by then amassed degrees from some pretty tough schools, but in the third grade, she didn’t test high enough for the gifted and talented program. Her parents are Chinese immigrants, but she didn’t get lectured on the salvation of hard work. Against stereotype, she can’t play a note of piano or violin.

The morning the MacArthur was announced, I walked over to my parents’ apartment. My mom and dad had already heard the news, and so had several “aunties,” who were calling in rapid succession to offer congratulations. Finally, when the phone stopped ringing, my dad turned to me and said, “I’m proud of you.”

I had so much to say in response, but instead I just said, “Thanks, Dad.”

There was no sense rehashing the past. I knew that, in fact, he was proud of me.

Still, part of me wanted to travel back in time to when I was a young girl. I’d tell him what I know now.

I would say, “Dad, you say I’m no genius. I won’t argue with that. You know plenty of people who are smarter than I am.” I can imagine his head nodding in sober agreement.

“But let me tell you something. I’m going to grow up to love my work as much as you love yours. I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”

And if he was still listening: “In the long run, Dad, grit may matter more than talent.”

All these years later, I have the scientific evidence to prove my point. What’s more, I know that grit is mutable, not fixed, and I have insights from research about how to grow it.

This book summarizes everything I’ve learned about grit.

When I finished writing it, I went to visit my dad. Chapter by chapter, over the course of days, I read him every line. He’s been battling Parkinson’s disease for the last decade or so, and I’m not entirely sure how much he understood. Still, he seemed to be listening intently, and when I was done, he looked at me. After what felt like an eternity, he nodded once. And then he smiled.





Part I


WHAT GRIT IS AND WHY IT MATTERS





Chapter 1


SHOWING UP





By the time you set foot on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, you’ve earned it.

The admissions process for West Point is at least as rigorous as for the most selective universities. Top scores on the SAT or ACT and outstanding high school grades are a must. But when you apply to Harvard, you don’t need to start your application in the eleventh grade, and you don’t need to secure a nomination from a member of Congress, a senator, or the vice president of the United States. You don’t, for that matter, have to get superlative marks in a fitness assessment that includes running, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups.

Each year, in their junior year of high school, more than 14,000 applicants begin the admissions process. This pool is winnowed to just 4,000 who succeed in getting the required nomination. Slightly more than half of those applicants—about 2,500—meet West Point’s rigorous academic and physical standards, and from that select group just 1,200 are admitted and enrolled. Nearly all the men and women who come to West Point were varsity athletes; most were team captains.

And yet, one in five cadets will drop out before graduation. What’s more remarkable is that, historically, a substantial fraction of dropouts leave in their very first summer, during an intensive seven-week training program named, even in official literature, Beast Barracks. Or, for short, just Beast.

Who spends two years trying to get into a place and then drops out in the first two months?

Then again, these are no ordinary months. Beast is described in the West Point handbook for new cadets as “the most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point . . . designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to Soldier.”

A Typical Day at Beast Barracks



5:00 a.m.

Wake-up



5:30 a.m.

Reveille Formation



5:30 to 6:55 a.m.

Physical Training



6:55 to 7:25 a.m.

Personal Maintenance



7:30 to 8:15 a.m.

Breakfast



8:30 to 12:45 p.m.

Training/Classes



1:00 to 1:45 p.m.

Lunch



2:00 to 3:45 p.m.

Training/Classes



4:00 to 5:30 p.m.

Organized Athletics



5:30 to 5:55 p.m.

Personal Maintenance



6:00 to 6:45 p.m.

Dinner



7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Training/Classes



9:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Commander’s Time



10:00 p.m.

Taps



The day begins at 5:00 a.m. By 5:30, cadets are in formation, standing at attention, honoring the raising of the United States flag. Then follows a hard workout—running or calisthenics—followed by a nonstop rotation of marching in formation, classroom instruction, weapons training, and athletics. Lights out, to a melancholy bugle song called “Taps,” occurs at 10:00 p.m. And on the next day the routine starts over again. Oh, and there are no weekends, no breaks other than meals, and virtually no contact with family and friends outside of West Point.

One cadet’s description of Beast: “You are challenged in a variety of ways in every developmental area—mentally, physically, militarily, and socially. The system will find your weaknesses, but that’s the point—West Point toughens you.”



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