Because this book was an assigned reading for my college, I went into it with high expectations. After reading the first few chapters, I knew I didn’t like it, but I thought, give it a chance; keep an open mind. And so I did. However, my opinion of the book was a constant from beginning to end. But hey, at least I showed grit by finishing this book, right?
Grit by Angela Duckworth can be summarized into two simple equations:
Grit = passion + perseverance = achievement (not including all outside circumstances)
And voila, you’ve found the formula for success.
However, what Ms. Duckworth failed to elaborate in specificity is what I’ve included in the parenthesis — all other circumstances. Because of the book’s extreme focus on grit being the fundamental and essential factor for success, it ignores the many socioeconomic circumstances that more people face. In nearly all of her examples, Ms. Duckworth tells the stories of “grit paragons” who have climbed to the top of the ladder, but neglects to consider that they were far ahead the ladder in the first place.
This is not to say that Ms. Duckworth hasn’t considered these circumstances. I believe that she acknowledges and understands that grit isn’t the determinant for success, but still chose to write a book that obviously had the mass market in mind, morphing from what I expected to be a careful examination of her years of research to a redundant self-help book.
Now let’s talk about the parts where I did find interesting and noteworthy. One of the first questions Ms. Duckworth raises is society’s obsession with “natural” talent. Being an aspiring writer, I’ve often wondered if I had talent, and if I had what it takes. Ms. Duckworth offers, or rather paraphrases, two explanations:
- “If we can’t explain how an athlete, musician, or anyone else has done something jaw-droppingly amazing, we’re inclined to throw up our hands and say, “It’s a gift! Nobody can teach you that.” In other words, when we can[t easily see how experience and training got someone to a level of excellence that is so clearly beyond the norm, we default to labeling that person a “natural”
Or, as Nietzsche wrote, “With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”
The second reason (also Nietzsche) is just as intriguing, if not more:
2. “Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius. 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.”
Another thing that interested me was at the end of the book, in a chapter called “A Culture of Grit.” Here, Ms. Duckworth examines how a culture (by “culture” she means the “invisible psychological boundaries separating us from them“) shapes an individual’s characteristics, specifically, their grit. How, when everyone surrounding you is being diligent and hardworking, you naturally follow suite. It’s the relatively “easier” way of developing grit. It also follows the same logic as, your personality is molded by your best friends.
This is all just to say, yes, grit is important, but to put it in a social vacuum to get more sales, takes up the space for discussions about the other systematic structures of poverty and outside determinants that has nothing to do a person’s characteristics.
(Disclaimer: And yes, I understand that this is a psychology book, not a sociology one. I don’t have a problem with the psychology itself, and cannot argue with the data that Ms. Duckworth has collected over the years. I do think the book could’ve still been about grit and had more emphasis on social circumstance.)