I often talk with my students about the importance of their having grit and a growth mindset, qualities which researchers Angela Duckworth (Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance ) and Carol Dweck (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success) tell us are crucial for success.
A growth mindset is the view that, with disciplined effort, we can stretch the reach of our abilities, widen the scope of our capacities, and deepen the impact of our talents. While it’s true that we have default settings of intelligence, personality traits, and interests, those settings aren’t the most important factors in achievement and life satisfaction. What we do with what we have matters at least as much as, if not more than, what we have.
In a growth mindset, failures are learning opportunities. As Dweck says, “Failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.” In fact, she sees all of life as an adventure of learning in which we ask ourselves questions like: “What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today?”
Duckworth says that grit “rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. I have a feeling tomorrow will be better is different from I resolve to make tomorrow better. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again” (169).
People with grit trust that their efforts matter and can make a constructive difference in themselves and in their circumstances. They know that repeated practice and hard work often pay off. They exercise the power of their wills over their fleeting feelings.
My West Virginia parents and grandparents never studied emotional intelligence or positive psychology, but they taught me to value grit, growth, and persistence. They admired people who had “gumption,” who worked hard to get ahead, and who knew that getting knocked down is inevitable but that staying down is a choice—and so is clambering back to your feet. They believed that it was almost always too soon to quit, though they also knew that Kenny Rogers was right to sing “You gotta’ know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em,”
One of the things they regularly said to me is both true and untrue, or true sometimes and not true at others: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
I heard that advice often from my dad and from my football coaches, and I’ve shouted it at myself for decades.There have been times when it has helped me to push through exhaustion, face withering criticism, and endure overwhelming pressure.I’ve sometimes needed the reminder that I could be tough enough to handle hard things.
These days, the tone and texture of public life are tough.Our culture rewards raw anger, celebrates norm-breaking, applauds mockery, and approves harshness. Too often, leaders don’t lead; instead, they pander to the privileged, stoke the fires of false grievance, and trade authentic virtue for ersatz victory.
And, things are sometimes tough for me personally–as they are for you.
I’m tired of wrestling with the effects of illness, dealing with the questions it raises, and trying to draw energy from a well that is sometimes dry.
I don’t like feeling hemmed-in by tightening limits. I’ve never been good at saying “no,” and even worse at saying “I can’t.” The ability to make hard choices about what I will and won’t do– about what I can and can’t manage–is part of the growth I need to pursue and of the grit I need to develop.
I don’t want to waste time. There are questions to live, gifts to give, and blessings to offer.
The going is sometimes tough. I’m not. I feel vulnerable which is much tougher for me to handle than being tough. Being vulnerable is, I’m learning, another kind of strength–another way to “get going,” even when it’s not at all clear what they next steps will be.