GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Angela Duckworth

By Alishia Klein

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance was written by Angela Duckworth, an American psychologist and popular science author. In this self-help non-fiction book, Duckworth suggests that the secret to success is wrapped up in a four-letter word: grit. Her research takes us on a journey from military bases to classrooms and digs deep into the psyche of individuals from many walks of life to determine if grit is the difference between those who make it and those who don’t.

The following summary captures the heartfelt discussions that took place over snacks and glasses of wine during March’s YWE Book Club meeting at the Swine & Sow in downtown Calgary.

In order to be successful, how important is grit to you? Do you find it comes easily or is it a grind to be gritty?

Before determining what grit meant to us, and how easily or difficult it was for us to utilize grit in our daily lives, we determined that it was important to first consider what success looked like for each of us. Maybe, you need more grit for the outward measures of success (money/work), but if inwardly you measure success differently (happiness/love) then grit may be less applicable.

Duckworth contends that if you have difficulty following through on your goals, then you may lack grit. Attendees had difficulty with this notion: What if your original intended goal was incomplete, but something better and unexpected was accomplished - does that still mean you lacked grit? We decided that the answer was no. Grit is important, we thought, but depending on the goal and an individual’s definition of success – grit was fluid – it could come easily if we liked what we were doing or could be more difficult if we felt challenged by what we were doing.

Is talent something people are born with or does it come from a mix of skills and grit coming together that gives people talent?

The group’s discussion began with an exploration of the reaches of individual talent. Pure talent can only take an individual so far, we decided; grit can then be mustered to contribute to and build on a person’s natural talents.

Duckworth claims that grit is the power of passion and perseverance, but the group decided that that may not always be true. It is possible to be passionate and successful without grit. It is also possible to persevere but not be perceived as gritty. Often, it’s our fear of failure that pushes us to be grittier – especially when talent, passion or even perseverance alone won’t get us there. In these cases, the potential for failure forces us to push harder and to develop a thicker skin – that process, we determined, is called grit.

Do you believe that passion (internal motivation) for a certain activity is stronger than willpower? Why or why not?

The group’s discussion determined that passion is what drives us to do the things we want to do. When we are passionate about something, we do not have to think too much about our desire to pursue that passion. Willpower, however, is the ability to pursue a given task, regardless of our passion for that task. We need willpower when something takes a little more oomph to accomplish than we may otherwise want to give.

Some YWE members in attendance felt that they were still looking for their passion when it came to work, and in the absence of finding that passion, felt willpower was guiding them. These members linked willpower to grit – further differentiating the powers of passion from those of grit – a concept supported by Duckworth in Grit.

For those in the room, being passionate about an activity was linked to positive emotions, whereas willpower and grit were adjectives some of us would only use to help us overcome challenges. We all agreed that whether it is passion or willpower that helps us to achieve our goals, what matters most is a personal sense of achievement, which we determined was the end goal of grit as well.

Duckworth states that previous generations had more grit than millennials – do you think that is true and why?

This question had the room divided. Duckworth states that millennials have less grit than their parents. Some attendees argued that a person’s level of grit is relative to the person experiencing or perceiving it. Our parents and grandparents faced tougher economic times, world wars and less technological advancements. In contrast, millennials must manage their own levels of grit to cope with media overload, fierce competition, rising debt levels, and higher rates of anxiety and depression. Grit, some therefore believed, is relative.

The other half of the room felt that today’s parents encourage their children to find passion; meaning that millennials today have the freedom to explore and attempt to find what we are passionate about - a luxury previous generations did not have. This autonomy could lead millennials to be less resilient and less likely to push through and achieve their goals – making them inherently less gritty.

Attendees agreed that we are living in a society of consumers and divorce, where things are dispensable - leading us to be less resilient and less likely to push through and commit to our goals – less gritty. While we all felt fortunate for the choices and freedom we have now, we as millennials may possess a new type of grit that past generations might find challenging to manage or exhibit themselves.

Do you think you will try to be grittier going forward as a result of this book? Is the extra hard work worth it?

Duckworth’s book pushed each of us to reflect on what grit meant, how it presented itself in our lives, how much of it we possessed naturally, and how much of it we had to work to bring out.

Grit is always worth it, the night’s discussion determined. But we acknowledged the importance of always being authentic. In fact, the Club determined that there is good grit and bad grit and that not everything was worth being gritty for.

We recognized the importance of surrounding ourselves with a supportive network of people to balance the good grit from the bad. This network can support you when you are in the thick of a bad grit, and encourage you to keep going or find a new way to achieve your goals. Some attendees had experienced feeling of being so excited about new opportunities that they found themselves jumping from one thing to the next without looking back. With their newfound awareness of grit, these jumpers decided that it may be valuable to rewind to some of the goals they had abandoned or shelved in the past – the ones they were still truly passionate about – and add a little grit to see them through.

In summary, March’s Book Club was inspired by parts of Grit, but agreed that the book felt repetitive and lacked ordinary examples of everyday people searching for success. For some, it was the first time they had ever used the word grit, but even these attendees new to the concept were able to recognize grit in themselves and others as they read through Grit’s chapters. The power of passion and perseverance was a concept the group wholeheartedly related to, but did not link to grit directly. Instead, grit became the underbelly of passion and perseverance – the stuff it takes to succeed when passion and perseverance are lacking.

Join us at the next YWE Book Club on May 2 to discuss our next Book Club choice, “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast Track Your Career” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.