By: Angela Masciulli
Life-changing moments can come at unexpected times and from unexpected sources. I had an unexpected, life-changing moment last week while innocently listening to the radio on the drive to the grocery store. It wasn’t long after the public radio show on success began that I had abandoned my mental checklist of family-favorite recipe ingredients and was pounding my steering wheel and repeating “yes” in agreement. Finally, someone had figured out what I had wondered most of my life. Why had I met with a certain level of success even although I am not the smartest, most beautiful, or privileged? The interview with University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth summed up my question with one small, but powerful, four-letter word: GRIT!
When Professor Duckworth quit a high-powered consulting job to become a seventh-grade math teacher, she noticed that some students (not always the smartest) were more successful than others. She sought to understand why. She found her answer in grit, or the determined ability to stick with a long-term goal until it is mastered. Duckworth developed a grit test with various questions about goals, focus, and work ethic to calculate one’s grit score. Duckworth’s research revealed interesting results. Students with the highest IQ scores had lower grit scores than students with lower IQ scores. Duckworth determined that the hard work necessary for those with lower IQ scores to stay competitive academically, developed grit. The grittiest students, therefore, also had the highest GPAs. It wasn’t surprising to me that I scored in the 90th percentile for grit. What I lack in quantifiable IQ, I more than make up for in unwavering determination to diligently reach goals no matter how long it takes or the level of hard work required.
In a particularly difficult class, I once made a statement that the subject “separated the men from the boys.” Fellow students took my comment as arrogant and thought I meant that I was better than everyone else. Quite the contrary is true. Maybe it was a poor choice of words, but what I was trying to convey to my fellow students was that the situation separated those with grit from those who lacked it. Obstacles such as a rigorous class, a difficult project, or even a rejection letter are an opportunity to either be negative, complain, be a victim, and give up or get back up and try harder until you achieve your goal. Keep in mind also that not every time you work hard will you reach your goal. Not everything in life is fair either. Sometimes we must digest the difficult news that even harder work is necessary or more practical goals are required. Mastering some psychological behaviors will help keep your grit on track.
Chronic complaining, blame, self-doubt, and procrastination are the enemies of grit. That doesn’t mean that every morning you must wake up with a beaming smile ready to tackle the day without anxiety about how you are going to perform everything on your to-do list. Instead, it means you know the realities of the day that lies ahead and you say to yourself, “I’ve got this.” Ask yourself how you deal with adversity. Do you often complain about others – your boss, professor, peers? Do you blame others for life’s setbacks? Do you usually wait until the last minute to complete tasks and complete them haphazardly? Do you chronically doubt yourself and rely on others to tell you that you are important and worthy? Do you set goals, but get distracted and abandon them after a few months? If any of these questions describe your behavior, then it is time to sit back and reevaluate your grit.
It easier to evaluate whether someone has grit than tell them how to develop it. Looking back, I can identify some things that probably developed my grit. My mother, in her sweetly high-pitched, Southern accent would say, “I don’t care if you are a ditch digger, but you better be the best ditch digger there is.” She never gave up on me and she never let me give up on myself. Not a day goes by that I don’t try to improve, but if I feel doubtful, I don’t have to look further than my living room for inspiration.
My youngest daughter just learned to walk. She must fall at least fifty times a day. She rarely, if ever, cries after a fall. She just immediately gets up and keeps going, but most importantly, with a smile. Her persistence is like an unstoppable freight train. She never considers that she cannot achieve what she sets out to do. Professor Duckworth’s research identified the reason for my daughter’s grit. Duckworth discovered children had a higher degree of grit because children have not yet learned to doubt themselves. This means we have a say in our own success. Perhaps as adults the best way to develop grit is to unlearn listening to the noise of others and maybe even our own inner voice that plants doubt.
Professor Duckworth’s most important points in her interview were that life is a marathon, not a sprint, and that individuals should have a dedication to personal excellence in whatever they do. Keep those two things in mind and you will be on the path to greater success. The next time you feel defeated, uninspired, and ready to give up, remember that important four-letter word - grit, and tell yourself, “I’ve got this.”
Angela Masciulli is a certified paralegal with an undergraduate degree in Political Science from DePaul University and will graduate with a Master’s in Paralegal Studies from the George Washington University’s College of Professional Studies in May 2014.
Wishing you an abundance of grit as you sprint through that legal gauntlet on this fine work day! Run it loud and proud. Just remember, no matter what the moment, task or project brings - give it all you’ve got. Just like Angela’s mom said, “I don’t care if you are a ditch digger, but you better be the best ditch digger there is.” Now get out there and dig into those piles of papers, TPSers! And don’t forget to hit that caffeine trough on your first lap around that carpeted track of glory.
We’ll see you later this week.