Are You Gritty?

During a conference last month, we watched and listened to a TED talk. The presenter was a professor at UPENN named Angela Lee Duckworth. She left a highly compensated job in the management consulting world to become a teacher of seventh-grade math in the New York City Public Schools. Teaching math is hard. Teaching seventh grade is harder. And teaching kids who may have had no breakfast that morning – or dinner the night before – is harder yet. But put them all together, and the challenge could become Herculean.

She found as she worked with her students that there was a wide gap between those who did well and those who struggled. She tried to get her arms around what made some succeed and some fail, but conventional measures, such as IQ, did not provide any degree of correlation. She was convinced that every student could succeed, but the key to that success was elusive.

After teaching for several years, she came to the conclusion that motivation had to be part of the key, so left teaching for graduate school to become a psychologist. As part of her research she “… started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study my question was, who is successful here and why? My research team and I went to West Point Military Academy. We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who’s going to earn the most money? In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t I.Q. It was grit.”1

Dr. Duckworth describes grit as follows: “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 2  

This got me to thinking: Could GRIT apply to success on the AT? (of course my mind is ALWAYS focused on the AT these days!)

So Dr. Duckworth has created a test to see if YOU are gritty. Of course, I took it – and in my comments noted that prospective AT thru hikers would be a good group to study. Sadly, my phone has not been ringing with a request to follow up. But, I still think that a thru hike is for the long haul; and that grit may explain why Emma Gatewood, the most famous Grandma on the trail, was successful in getting to Maine multiple times, while 75% still don’t finish.

If you are interested in Dr. Duckworth’s Ted talk, or want to discover how gritty YOU are, you can find links here.

1 Angela Lee Duckworth, “The Key to Success? Grit”, TED Talks Education, April 2013.

2 Ibid.

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Comments 2

  • Jeanne : Feb 14th

    Interesting article!

  • Shawn Hudson : Jul 26th

    Nice! Love seeing the psych applied to all things.

    Another theory that seems to float in the same circles is Growth Mindset from Carol Dweck. Between GRIT and growth mind, and the Mindfulness-based practices that the author of this site wrote about in his book, hikers old and new can overcome just about any mental obstacle.


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