Grit & Greatness: Part 1

It would be a rare parent indeed who didn’t express a desire that their child be successful. Success, however, is an ambiguous term – often linked with the external indicators (money, fame, material possessions). I suspect that what the majority of parents really hope for is something much deeper than this. 

It starts off as a hope that our children will play nicely with others and engage in friendships easily. Perhaps that they could learn to master their ABC’s and numbers quickly. We hope that they will find favour in the classroom, be a natural out on the soccer pitch, discover the merits of hard work and dedication. As they near graduation, we might hold our hopes for a solid relationship, a rewarding career, a generous income. 

But what is it that separates some from others? What is the factor that determines whether we live out our potential or not? Can we, as parents, have any influence over our children’s prospects? 

Angela Duckworth answers these questions and more in her book ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’. As a former math and science teacher, then a dedicated researcher into the science behind success, she offers some remarkable insights into how we can capitalise on the characteristics that matter, and find fulfillment in the process. 

Over the next three weeks we will be focusing on some top tips for helping our kids to have a successful and rewarding life, as found in Duckworth’s book.

Don’t Overemphasize Talent

In a world where ‘talent’ is overrated and we seem to have this belief that some people are just born greater than others, Duckworth points out that each of us are born with incredible potential – we just often fail to use it. ‘Greatness is’, she says, ‘many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.’ 

While talent is undoubtedly important, ‘effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.’ 

Prioritise Play

Duckworth describes passion as a compass – ‘that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately, you want to be.’

How can we help our kids to discover their passion? Firstly, we can relax. ‘Longitudinal studies following thousands of people across time have shown that most people only begin to gravitate toward certain vocational interests, and away from others, around middle school.’

Duckworth has a message for parents: ‘Before hard work comes play. Before those who’ve yet to fix on a passion are ready to spend hours a day diligently honing skills, they must goof around, triggering and retriggering interest.’ 

Because if we don’t allow our kids to have fun while exploring, we can actually end up having the opposite effect on their prospects. Intrinsic motivation (that is being motivated by the enjoyment of the activity rather than the possibility that someone will praise you for it) has the potential to be destroyed by well-meaning parents and teachers who try to involve themselves too much. And when this is gone, it is very, very difficult to get back. 

Encourage Endurance

For those who have discovered their ‘thing’, it is all about sticking with it. For ‘enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.’ 

Those who succeed show themselves to have an extraordinary amount of endurance. They discover their passion and outlast the others. They love what they do, even when it isn’t ‘fun’. There is an underlying sense of purpose to their behaviour. 

The sweet spot is ‘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.’

So, in order to help our kids have successful lives, there are a few things we can do: 

  1. Don’t tell them that they are perfect. Expect them to work hard in order to unleash their potential.
  2. Allow them to play around in order to discover their passion.
  3. Teach kids from an early age that sticking it out is important. When we value something, we do it even when it isn’t immediately rewarding.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series, where we will uncover the power of practice, purpose and optimism. 

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