Grit – a key ingredient for a successful future

Academic and psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, conducted studies on the characteristics that led to success in a vast range of settings. Her analysis led to the conclusion that “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 IQ. It was grit.”

This week the Magid Campus students attended a Welcome to Term assembly in which the Heads of School, Jayne Wise and David Robinson, launched the term theme “grit”. Within their presentation they shared Duckworth’s 2013 TED talk in which she defines grit as “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.”

In the assembly, Jayne and David explored the theme of grit in a school context and how important it is for our students to develop this highly beneficial characteristic.

I also spoke to the students about how their generation had been characterised as lacking this capability. I said:

“Your generation was one that had a bit of a reputation for not coping too well when things were hard. Things like giving everyone a participation award in races or not scoring in Junior footy were meant to ensure that young people did not suffer from the disappointment of losing. We all know that life is actually not like this, and learning to both win and lose gracefully is a vital life skill. My generation also has a bit of a reputation and that is for spoiling your generation – as parents, we are criticised for trying too hard to be friends with you and failing to instil and monitor limits. Some theorists have linked the notion of our being helicopter parents, who hover over you scouting out trouble, or lawnmower parents, who clear the path for you, with a perceived lack of resilience and endurance that has developed as a consequence.

Of course these are massive generalisations, and almost every generation in history has criticised the next young upstarts for being too soft, lazy or wild.

And importantly, your generation really proved everyone wrong when you coped with the huge challenge of the COVID pandemic and living through Melbourne’s marathon lockdowns.

We do know that if you are able to develop grit your future selves will thank you for it.”

I discussed the example of our tradition’s greatest leader, Moses, who initially refuted God’s instruction to demand freedom from Pharoah. Moses said that he was “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” This is interpreted as him having a stutter and thus, being scared and reluctant to have to voice the freedom cry of his people.

Of course, Moses summoned the courage, resilience and grit to face Pharoah not one, but many times, and persevered until he achieved his goal.

I pointed out to the students that grit is not just about overcoming fears about public speaking. It can mean taking the difficult but morally correct decision and staying fast through it. It can be about standing up for what feels right, rather than what feels easy. It can also mean having the patience, stick-with-it-ness and optimism to work through issues until a solution arises. I said that “this is equally true in social situations as it is in your school results.”

Grit is one of those characteristics that can be counter-intuitive to foster. As parents and teachers we instinctively want to protect our young people from discomfort, struggle and challenge. However, we also know that there is great benefit in developing tolerance to initial failure, frustration and unease as it is a vital ingredient in setting ourselves up for long term success.

I wish all of our students a gritty and rewarding term ahead.