Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Sleep in Saturday is when I write about something I consider fun – a book review, a new project, or something random from my past. Today I’m writing about a book that I found very exciting and interesting.

Genius vs. grit. Which one matters more in the marathon of life? Angela started her life the daughter of someone who thought she was just not a genius and so wouldn’t succeed in life. But she went on to win a MacArthur grant (aka the genius grant) and write a NY times best selling book. Her TED talk has almost 10 million views. In this book she makes the case that in the long run that is life, grit may matter more than sheer genius.

I loved this book so much-it echoed what I’ve seen in my own life. When I was younger I was praised for being smart but ran into trouble in middle school and high school. My grades suffered and my parents essentially gave up on my education. Through grit and sheer will I eventually went from community college to an MBA from my states flagship university, completely debt free.  In the book she mentions that community college graduates are grittier than those holding four year degrees-likely because 80% of those students drop out. And that those holding advanced degrees (masters/PhD)are gritter than those holding bachelors, likely due to the perseverance that’s required to go to school for such a long time.


I’ve made six pages of notes on this book with the key points I found most interesting. I’ll try to keep this recap to only the points that others might find the most useful. I highly recommend going out to pick this book up, either through the library like I did (you’ve probably noticed a pattern of books from the library by now) or buying it online.

  • West Point calculates a score that predicts success in the academy, but had a high drop out rate that wasn’t predicted by the score. Angela found that those that didn’t drop out had more grit and a “never give up” attitude
  • Success is a combination of being lucky, talented, and continuing to persevere after failure
  • Aptitude does not guarantee achievement. There’s a gap between potential and realization that is explained by grit
  • If you shine a bright spotlight on talent above all else, you can end up with a company like Enron-filled with bright stars but failing
  • “The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregation of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary”
  • Nietzche said that essentially the cult of the genius gives us ordinary folks an “out”-if success is due only to genius then it’s not doable by ordinary people
  • Effort counts twice in the marathon of life. Talent times effort equals skill, and skill times effort equals achievement
  • Grit is about stamina, not intensity. Life and success is a marathon, not a sprint. Developing real deep expertise takes time
  • Passion, or doing what you love, is a compass. It guides you on the long winding road of life to eventually get where you want to be
  • Your goals have levels:
    • Low level, tactical goals that lead to
    • Mid-level goals which should be in persuit of
    • A higher goal
  • Warren Buffet (fangirl here!) once advised writing down 25 career goals, circling the five most important ones, and avoiding the other 20 at all costs. The reason being that the less important goals are what distracts you from the five most important. I love this advice and plan to do it at work this week
  • Grit grows over time through your life experiences
  • Grit-and success-is composed of four key aspects:
    • Interest:  You probably won’t recognize your life’s destiny on first acquaintance and may need to try many things before you identify it. Finding your passion for work is the result of discovery, then development, then a lifetime of deepening. For example, I got my first job in IT by accident. I was just trying to escape the call center I worked at to work my way through college, and had no particular interest in technology. When I was growing up technology wasn’t something a girl worked with-that was something my brother did
    • Capacity to practice: Practice doesn’t just mean doing something over an over again. You can get twenty years of experience or one year of experience twenty times. The key is setting and striving to reach stretch goals, and in deliberate practice-practicing things you can’t do yet, failing, changing your approach, and practicing some more. This reminded me of someone I knew at work who regretted staying at a consulting firm for most of their career instead of moving to a corporation. They liked flitting from project to project and company to company, but had never developed the deep expertise they would need to succeed
    • Purpose: For true success and deep meaning in what you do, your work has to have a purpose larger than yourself. I agree with this-for example, I work in IT, but I don’t see my job as simply overseeing development of software. Instead I see my work as helping our customers through technology. You’ll start with a self-oriented interest, proceed to deliberate practice, and then eventually come to an other-centered purpose. The idea that what we do matters to other people besides ourselves is important, and how you see your work is actually more important than your job title
    • Hope: There’s an old Japanese saying – “Fall seven, rise eight”. Hopelessness isn’t caused by suffering, it’s caused by suffering you think you can’t control. This is why two people can have the same experience and one is devastated and never recovers, while the other uses the experience to change their life. Many of the most successful people have experienced some kind of adversity-real adversity-when young. I remember hearing on a podcast about three flight attendants who were on the flight of the “Miracle on the Hudson”. Two were so happy and grateful to be alive and the third was devastated and felt her life was over.

Again, I really enjoyed this book. I saw so much of what I’ve experienced in my life echoed in what Angela found in her studies. I’ve known people that experienced adversity and fought to overcome it, and others that let it destroy their lives. I hope you’ll pick this up and read it, and be as excited and energized as I am.

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