Angela Lee Duckworth

How gritty are you?” is the title of the 4th chapter of Angela Lee Duckworth’s book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance


What is Grit?

According to Angela Duckworth,

“Grit isn’t just working incredibly hard. That’s only part of it.” … Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, not just falling in love—(but) staying in love.”

Grit has two components: passion and perseverance. Passion and perseverance aren’t exactly the same thing.

The word passion is often used to describe intense emotions. For a lot of people, passion is synonymous with infatuation or obsession. But in interviews about what it takes to succeed, high achievers often talk about commitment of a different kind. Rather than intensity, what comes up again and again in their remarks is the idea of consistency over time.

So… How Gritty are you?

If you want to take a short quiz/test to know where you stand in a grit scale, there is this link to the Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale

It’s only 10 questions and you get an idea or a confirmation of where you stand. The test will give you an overall score and then specific scores about the “passion” and the perseverance” components of grit. The author tells us in his book that the perseverance score is usually a little higher than the passion score, but not always. Passion and perseverance are not the same thing, but they are related when they refer to grit.


When people think of passion, they tend to think about “intense emotions”, “infatuation” or “obsession”. But the high achievers interviewed by Angela Duckworth, when they talk about the passion needed to succeed, don’t focus on “intensity” but on “consistency over time“.

It’s more about how steadily you hold your goals over time. So, in this case passion means “sustained, enduring devotion”.

Some might say I should find a better word. Maybe so. But the important thing is the idea itself: Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.

Angela Duckworth illustrates her idea with the story of Jeffrey Gettleman, who has been the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times for over a decade, and in 2012 won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his coverage of conflict in East Africa. She writes:

Jeff’s passion emerged over a period of years. And it wasn’t just a process of passive discovery—of unearthing a little gem hidden inside his psyche—but rather of active construction. Jeff didn’t just go looking for his passion—he helped create it.

Journalism for Jeff was a mean to an end, because his real passion was to live and work East Africa (for more details, see the book).

This story shows that passion doesn’t mean “fireworks” when applied to grit,

What Jeff’s journey suggests instead is passion as a compass.

Life Philosophy and Goals

You need a “life philosophy” to organize your goals in a hierarchy. At the bottom of this hierarchy are your most concrete and specific goals—the tasks you have on your short-term to-do list, like waking early enough to run before work, or remembering to make a certain phone call.

These low-level goals are only means to an end. You need to accomplish them to get us what you want. Top-level goals need to be supported by mid-level and low-level goals. However, often people show lack of grit because while the can articulate a dream—for example, to be an engineer or a soccer player, they don’t really know which mid-level and lower-level goals will help them reach their dream.

This situation leads to what Duckworth’s fellow psychologist Gabriele Oettingen calls “positive fantasizing.” Those who indulge in visions of a positive future without determining how to overcome obstacles to reach their goals, have short-term payoffs but long-term costs. In the short-term, they feel pretty great about their dreams, but in the long-term, they end up disappointed for not having achieved their goal.

In other cases, people have many mid-level goals that are not unified by any top-level goal, or they have competing goal hierarchies that are disconnected from each other.

While to some extent goal conflict is impossible to avoid completely in real life, “the more unified, aligned, and coordinated our goal hierarchies, the better.”

But why is this important? The author explains:

“When you see your goals organized in a hierarchy, you realize that grit is not at all about stubbornly pursuing—at all costs and ad infinitum—every single low-level goal on your list. In fact, you can expect to abandon a few of the things you’re working very hard on at this moment. Not all of them will work out. Sure, you should try hard—even a little longer than you might think necessary. But don’t beat your head against the wall attempting to follow through on something that is, merely, a means to a more important end.

Trying, and trying again sometimes doesn’t work until you try something different. Many of the things we try never work out. This is why giving up on lower-level goals is sometimes necessary.

“It also makes sense to switch your path when a different lower-level goal—a different means to the same end—is just more efficient, or more fun, or for whatever reason makes more sense than your original plan. On any long journey, detours are to be expected. However, the higher-level the goal, the more it makes sense to be stubborn.”

Is Better to be Smart or to Have Grit?

The chapter ends with the results of the research done by a Stanford psychologist named Catharine Cox, who catalogued the characteristics of high achievers. For her research she used the biographical details of 301 exceptionally accomplished historical figures, including poets, political and religious leaders, scientists, soldiers, philosophers, artists, and musicians.

Cox’s initial goal was to estimate how smart each of these individuals were, both relative to one another and also compared to the rest of humanity.

From her IQ estimates, Cox concluded that, “as a group, accomplished historical figures are smarter than most of us.” However, from her investigation she also determined that

high but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence, will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence.”

To be smart is a good thing, but to develop perseverance and grit is more important for our ultimate success. However, we often prefer to value the innate genius or talent of those who are successful more than their perseverance, to avoid considering how we could do better, if we were willing to make an effort as great as they made.

“Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Nietzsche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. . . To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’ In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook.

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