The Key to Success? Grit (Angela Lee Duckworth at TED)

For years I have struggled with the emphasis, in ages 12-18 education, on the teacher’s role, teacher development and the variety of ways that teachers must motivate students. Very little pressure is applied to families to teach children the power of consequences and changing ones mindset to use failure as a teaching tool, to acknowledge and understand disappointment as a transitory state.

Thus, I was reasonably excited this morning to find actual research to support my hypothesis that hard-work, determination, and treating life, as Duckworth states “as a marathon, instead of a sprint” ensures that certain students meet their goals whilst others– better off in terms of IQ, socioeconomic status and other factors– fall behind.

A writing colleague and I recently discussed how this phenomenon in teaching translates to unrealistic expectations by adult learners. We both attended a writers conference three months ago. She and I are working hard to turn our first novels into something worthy of agent representation. We were sorely disappointed to encounter other writers not taking full advantage of advice given to them by publishing editors and agents at this conference.

I noticed that many of our fellow participants fell into four categories:
1) The Socializers: they had already determined that they weren’t going to get published so they might as well take advantage of the social opportunities and were often seen lingering in the hallways chatting up fellow writers and gazing out the long glass windows in the meet and greet rooms. There was nothing wrong with this attitude, as I gleaned a lot of great information from these friendly participants, but it was obvious they had talent and had thrown in the towel too early by choosing to skip out on workshops in favour of socializing and telling jokes.
2) The Overconfident: their only mission in coming to the writing conference was to receive kudos for their novel, novella or film script. They weren’t terribly interested in learning anything, they just wanted to hear that they were a genius and were ready to be published. When such praise wasn’t forthcoming (especially considering most of their lack of literary knowledge, background, or education) they tended to grumble very loudly, proclaim that the agents and editors were wrong, and that they were determined to do things their own way, sharing their discontent with anyone who would listen.
3) The Dejected: they thought for sure that their work had some merit. To hear that it is riddled with errors has put them off publishing altogether and they have decided to give up forever, determined that their dream of becoming a published author or screenwriter is doomed to failure.
4) The Gritty-ones: they took the advice and critiques of agents and editors on-board, jotted down notes, listened, consulted with colleagues, and let the critiques they received settle in slowly, to see what was workable and what might change their work in a way that they were uncomfortable with. They were determined to continue the quest and networked with other writers to create a support group of fellow “gritty-ones” to join them on their quest.

Having just returned from London where I was able to meet with three of my gritty-friends from the writing conference, I was inspired to keep going on a path that many believe might be doomed to failure. Nevetheless, like Duckworth, I don’t believe failure is a permanent state of being: it is a waypoint on the road to success.