Hail the gritty

published 16 October 2016
ALL parents want their children to be successful in their chosen field. This is why we work hard ­—so we can create an environment and give them the tools we think they need to achieve just that. 
We want to know what exactly what predicts success. Is it talent? IQ? Being born in a certain socio-economic class? Attending a good (expensive) school? Having a conventional, relatively peaceful, family life?  
All these do bear on how children eventually turn out, but recent research shows there is something else that is a far better predictor of whether children will actually find meaning and happiness in what they do. It is called grit.
Grit is defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. It is carrying on despite distraction, temptation and failure. 
“Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over the years despite failures, adversity and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course,” so say Angela Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael Matthews and Dennis Kelly in their paper “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2007.
One of the authors, Duckworth, has gone on to become a more vocal advocate, publishing her own book, Grit, and becoming a famous TED Talk speaker.
So why do different people, of generally equal intelligence or talent, achieve different levels of success? The answer lies on good old grit, which characteristics are summarized by Forbes Magazine’s Margaret Perlis as courage, conscientiousness, follow through, resilience and excellence. 
Courage. Courage, we say, is not the absence of fear. It is pushing ahead despite it. Fear of failure, for instance, is debilitating—many would rather not try than risk trying and thereafter failing. 
But gritty people know that we are all bound to fail at one point, or several. They acknowledge that failure is part of the learning process and that the important thing is, as the song goes, is to “pick [themselves] up, dust [themselves] off and start all over again.” 
As parents, we often try to shield our kids from the consequences of their actions or omissions. We don’t want them to feel pain or frustration. What this tells us is that we just might want to adopt the “let them fail” approach, not so that we can punish them and say “I told you so!” but so that they can learn to deal with failure which is, they will eventually find, inevitable. 
Conscientiousness. To be conscientious means to be careful, painstaking and meticulous, and being accountable for one’s actions no matter what. Travis Bradberry writes for The Huffington Post: “By holding yourself accountable, even when making excuses is an option, you show that you care about results more than your image or ego.” 
Follow through. Overnight success is not success at all. A 1985 study of 120 world-class pianists, neurologists, swimmers, chess players, mathematicians and sculptors showed that just a few of them were regarded as prodigies by teachers, parents or experts in their younger years. “Rather, accomplished individuals worked day after day, for at least 10 or 15 years, to reach the top of their fields.”
This is akin to the minimum-requirement rule described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. To be really good at something, he posited, you have to work on what you do for no less than 10,000 hours. 
Resilience. Author Andrew Zolli defines resilience as “the ability of people, communities and systems to maintain their core purpose and integrity among unforeseen shocks and surprises.” Grit, or hardiness, he says, has three marks: the belief that one can find meaningful purpose in life, the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and the belief that both positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth. It’s all a mix of optimism, confidence and creativity. 
Excellence. Gritty people are not perfectionists. They recognize that there is so much imperfection in the world, and pursuing perfection can just lead to negative, counterproductive results like low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, depression and sometimes substance abuse. 
What the gritty aim for is excellence—which they see as an attitude, a disposition, and not an end in itself. Excellence is a way of life, done every day in the big things and the small. 
But how do parents instill grit in their children, especially given the penchant of today’s generation to work “smart” instead of working hard, their apparently limited attention span, the abundance of distraction, and the general tendency to tread the easy path? 
Duckworth shares that she and her husband enforce The Hard Thing Rule in their home for their teenage daughters—and themselves as well. All members of the family have to be doing a difficult thing. They should be interested in that endeavor, sure, but it requires sustained daily effort and they are not allowed to quit for a given period just because they are bored or frustrated or feel they are no good at it. 
Some parents bombard their children with “reminders” that they should be doing this or that, but experience tells us this hardly works especially since it is so easy for children to just tune out, however valid and priceless the message is. 
Some try to simply set a good example by exhibiting the traits associated with grit, in the hopes that the kids will pick up the clues and live them, themselves. But this could be all too subtle. 
The challenge to instill grit in our children—and the consequent feeling of confidence that because they have it, they will be fine when we are gone and wherever they eventually choose to go—is in itself a goal that requires perseverance and passion on the part of parents. And so we try, shunning the fearing of failure, carrying on despite stumbling blocks, and tirelessly beginning anew each morning. 
The Homeschool Association of the Philippine Islands, HAPI for short, is holding its annual Philippine Homeschool Conference this Saturday, October 22 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the SMX Convention Center, SMX Aura Premier in Taguig. 
This year’s theme is  “From Roots to Wings: Homeschooling through the Stages.”  
Visit www.educatingforlife.co for details.