Morton Bast

editorial coordinator, TED


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Open thread: Having grit means living life like a marathon, not a sprint. Share your story of grit, and how it made a difference.

As a seventh-grade math teacher in New York, Angela Lee Duckworth quickly realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled.

We'd like to start an open discussion on the idea that "grit" is one of the main factors for success in school and beyond. Does this ring true, in your experience? Have you ever seen grit make the difference between failure and success?

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    May 16 2013: I loved this talk so much, especially because, as someone extremely involved in STEM education, this something I notice frequently in peers and colleagues. As an engineering student, I see grit everyday in the students, especially students who struggle, who continue to persevere through their hard classes. Currently, 50% of incoming college freshmen engineering majors do not graduate as engineers. I think the students who stick with engineering are the students who have enough grit to stick out the hard classes where test averages are as low as 13%. These same gritty people are the ones who pursue internships and receive lucrative job offers at the end of the senior year of school.

    I'm also a girl in engineering, which means I'm a minority in most of my classes especially physics and computer science. I think that girls pursuing STEM fields are the grittiest because they must pass rigorous classes while also dealing with negative judgement from sexist ideas. So my proposal is that one of the best ways to encourage engineering majors to continue to pursue engineering instead of changing majors and to encourage women to pursue STEM careers is to develop grit students. With grit, these obstacles can be overcome and students will be on their way to success. I use my grit everyday to continue obtaining my engineering education and overcome others' misconception that as girl I can't be an engineer. I'd love to see this idea spread throughout more students like me.
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      May 16 2013: Hi Morgan,
      There does seem to be a high drop out ratio for engineering students....especially girls/women, and it is the "gritty" ones who continue, generally have good jobs, and enjoy their life/work circumstances.

      My daughter knew as a junior/senior in high school that she wanted to be an engineer, and several people tried to talk her out of it. She got scholarships, attended Clarkson, where the ratio was 80% men, 20% women at the time....20-25 years ago. Not only did she compete with the guys in classes...she also played sports with them, often being the only woman on a team. She is one of the grittiest people I know!!!

      You hang in there Morgan, and I'm sure you will do GREAT by following your heart and doing what you love doing:>)
  • May 10 2013: Grit in education is doing the work required for you to learn.
    Grit is going beyond the grade you receive and genuinely caring that you understand the material and can relate it to what you have already learned.

    Grit is being told that you are wrong, dumb, or ignorant and continuing with what you believe is necessary for you to learn.

    Grit if failing a class and taking it until you understand the concepts.

    Grit is getting a low score and working to improve yourself until you can compete better.

    Grit is taking a class about something you do not know about and risking a poor grade rather than taking a class you can get an easy A in.

    Grit is working both the odd and even problems because you want to gain proficiency in a subject.

    Grit is looking at different resources, references, and perspectives about a subject to gain increased understanding.

    Grit is building a case for your ideas, beliefs, and designs that is supported by evidence and that you are willing to intellectually defend against your peers and teachers as what you think should be done to solve a problem.

    Grit is listening to unpopular or arguments that you disagree with to better understand an opponent's position or to gain a competitive edge.

    Grit is not being satisfied that your work is anything less than your best effort, given the time and energy you are able to devote to the effort.

    Grit is taking the time to correct the things you think are wrong until they are fixed, or you learn something.

    Grit is doing the work in research to change what you think might be right into product that you are confident is right.

    Grit is not waiting for reward, adulation, praise or recognition to do what you think needs to be done to improve a situation.

    Grit is choosing not to take the path of least resistance in favor of a path that leads to the greatest probability producing quality results.

    Grit is constantly preparing for a situation or opportunity without knowing if it will ever happen.
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      May 10 2013: Reading your post (almost) brought tears into my eyes.

      "Grit is not waiting for reward, adulation, praise or recognition to do what you think needs to be done to improve a situation" Wow!
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    May 11 2013: I do agree, that there are several factors that contribute to success. The situation, people you work with and the role you are playing in a project all have an impact on this. But I do also find that there are (for me) three things that are most important to successfully finishing a project.
    That is passion, practice and perseverance. I think this can go along with grit very well.
  • May 10 2013: Your life may not be a marathon though. I may actually be a series of sprints from event to event as you move through an exciting and interesting life. It is not a slow, steady progress but a race from point to point, full speed, with breaks in between each event. If find this to be more true than a steady marathon, but that could just be my life.
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      May 10 2013: I perceive the life adventure in a similar way Everett....hills and valleys....mountains and plateaus....moving from event to event as we move through exciting, interesting, sometimes very challenging life experiences:>)
      • May 11 2013: I have never understood the "marathon" idea of life. Maybe my life has just been so inconsistent that I have never had that "slow and steady" chugging along experience.

        But I have loved every minute of the struggle to the top of the mountain and the careening down to the valley and working back up again. It is not at all easy. It is really hard work and we will get beat up, banged up, beat down, picked back up, bruised. bloodied and battered, in the process. But, if we persevere through the hard times we get those moments that take our breath away as we see the culmination of our hard work. To me, that is what makes life worth living.
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          May 16 2013: Hi again Everett,
          I agree with what you write, and also agree that is what makes life worth living:>)

          It seems like whenever I experience a slow steady comfortable pace in life , I have a desire to start sprinting again, which is what I usually do! I also love every moment of moving through the life adventure, and If I get too comfortable, I usually find a new "mountain" to climb.....something that challenges me physically and/or emotionally.

          As I age, I am more aware of balancing the sprinting times with the comfortable resting times, and I think that needs to happen to continue to maintain the body and mind in a healthy way. If I "sprint" too much I get too tired, and if I rest too much I get too tired, so I am more aware of balance:>)
  • May 16 2013: I'm currently a high school senior. I've seen how kids think. Grit seems to be the sort of idea that I seldom see. When I hear peoples opinion's on what they want to do with the rest of their lives they seem to lack ambition like they're doing certain things for only money or because they're told its the smart thing to do. Because people are such heuristic thinkers, they do not fill out their full potential or take the time to think about the future. Because people are such heuristic thinkers, they become lazy. I've noticed numerous peers focusing on socializing and belonging aswell. This highly distracts people from having a grit. Students have more ambition to seek a reward through socializing which is much easier than working for something or discovering another interest. I believe kids get so engrossed in socializing that they don't see what else is out there. This and their heuristic thinking,a result of technology, makes kids less likely to expand their realities and have grit and flow. Those adolescents that find the ability to break away from this mind set are the people I believe become the most successful.
  • May 13 2013: Grit is a fine grade abrasive. Over time it polishes down the rough edges of life that can slice or stab or poke. It is why chickens eat it, they do not have teeth. It is why people without grit are sprinters in life. They lack the ability to wear down and smooth out what is sharp and painful.
  • May 13 2013: I am an example of grit. I have always found a way to push ahead never accepting the simple answer, never looking for the easy way out (even when it stared me in the face). My resolve to succeed has always driven me in all my endeavors; even when I fail. I learned this by watching my parents strive to succeed and give our family a better way of life. My parents ability to look at adversity in the face taught me that even if a challenge does not yield a win, the lesson that you take away after the fight is the best prize, you learn what it takes to win and lose. The ability to examine my life is one of the many great tools I use to add to my resolve, it gives me the ability to find the courage to move forward.
  • May 12 2013: When I was 14 years old, I had to quit school and go as a trainee in a paper manufacturing co. because of financial difficulty in my family, even though I was always ranked among the top in my classes. Fortunately my "career" happened to be going well, and my employer treated me kindly after I completed my training and let me serve as a temporary technician in the manufacturing dept. After that I still performed well as a techie (for a person who hadn't even finish the 8th grade in school!). In 1949, I had to relocate to Taiwan because my whole family were in Taiwan. I believe , at that time , I was quite knowledgeable in paper manufacturing process, but was never accepted by the paper mills there because they didn't believe that I can be a technician in the engineering dept. Finally I found a bookkeeper job with an insurance co., again as temp/trainee. But after 2 years , the boss said "you are surprisingly good at your job, so he promoted me to be a formal accountant, and after another 2 years I was a chief account and was named as a model employee of the year in the company. However, I always study by myself in such area as chemical engineering and subsequently accounting, statistics and actuarial sciences. I was also interested in foreign languages and physics as well. Finally I realized that I probably should get a formal graduate degree so I won't be looked down as "not qualified for any decent job". So I just self-studied on all the topics needed to qualify me as a college graduate in accounting and statistics, which I learned from my previous jobs. I had to spend 5 years to pass a certification to be able to go to a U. S. university to be a graduate student (undergraduate study was not allowed for a visa) and here I am.
    I was accepted as a special student, but the Statistics Dept was also impressed by my ability and GRIT, and admitted me into the masters program 6 months later, finished my master/doctoral in all of 6 yrs. All I had is confidence & grit.
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    May 11 2013: I have one unforgettable memory that reminds me of the fact that persistence would pay off sometime. It was when I was an elementary school kid who was crazy about playing baseball. I’m confident enough to say that I loved baseball more than any other guys and actually did as much practice as I could at that time.
    The reality didn’t live up to my expectation, though. I often went out in a chance and did some errors in fielding. To be honest, I was about to hate baseball because I thought my efforts wouldn’t pay off once and for all. But my father suggested that I was right in front of the door for success and my effort would never be wasteful if I didn’t give up then. Keeping my grit was actually arduous, but the time had finally come.
    I hit a turning-the-table homer at my final game! I burst into tears because I didn’t know how ecstatic it was that efforts finally paid off. This experience’s still supported me even though I’m no longer a baseball player. Efforts don’t always lead you to the success, but you would never make a success without efforts.
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    May 10 2013: Morton, Grit, motivation, determination, preseverance or what ever you want to call it are valuable tools. But they are just that ... tools ... part of the tool box. Teachers and life experiences will require you to use many tools individually and mutually.

    Grit is great but cannot overcome the lack of information or the ability to communicate. The key to long term success is , IMO, the addition of as many tools as possable to the tool box and having the ability to use each and the wisdom to use them as necessary to resolve issues or overcome obstacles.

    Thanks for listening. Bob.
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    May 10 2013: Hi Morton:>)
    My life experience tells me that there are many different factors which may contribute to our feeling of success....or not!

    To me, and also by definition, "grit" is... "hard, sharp, abrasive" with a touch of "firmness of mind or spirit. unyeilding courage in the face of hardship or danger".

    I embrace the "firmness of mind or spirit" part wholeheartedly. I do not accept or practice the hard, sharp, abrasive, or unyeilding concepts.

    I believe it is important to recognize and embrace ALL parts of the adventure, which for me, sometimes includes recognizing the soft, raw and vulnerable thoughts, feelings and emotions that an experience may stimulate. I also do not believe in being "unyeilding" because that suggests to me that we are not genuinely accepting the experience.

    For example, I yeilded to the fact that I have degenerative disc disease, which is often disabling, and I found ways to manage it so I am NOT disabled.

    I yeilded to the fact that I had cancer, and a near fatal head/brain injury (accepted the facts) and I faced the challenges with strength and courage (figured out how to best move through the challenges).

    "Firmness of mind or spirit" and "unyeilding" seems like a contradiction to me. When I recognize firmness of mind and spirit in myself, I recognize all "parts" of my "self", and to "yeild" at times when I have no control over circumstances, seems more clear, "firm" and strong to me.

    I LOVE and practice one of the beliefs of martial arts....come from the core with strength, and yeild. While I may consider "grit" as part of the underlying elements of success, I do not perceive it, as a single element to "make the difference between failure and success". I believe the greatest success, in anything we do, embraces ALL elements:>)
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    W. Ying

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    May 10 2013: . Tell your kids:
    Our brain is the most powerful computer today.
    It will most probably solve your problem
    if you persist asking it to do.
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    May 9 2013: This absolutely rings true in my experience. I believe that cultivating a "growth mindset" has over the last couple of decades become a key part of teacher training, whether labeled in those words or not. I think "grit" develops in students when they are faced with challenges, with cognitive demands, that are at a level that allows them to tackle the challenge successfully with sustained effort but which they cannot tackle without it.

    In the early stages parent or teacher stands by to provide encouragement and appropriate scaffolding. Gradually, as the student gets more experience with being able to handle what first seemed too hard and also to experience the sense of immense satisfaction from overcoming whatever hurdles were involved, the need for someone right there in the wings diminishes.

    It is important for the challenges to be significant rather than simply difficult. I know many people think education can be successful only if it is made very easy, but I believe students get more satisfaction from challenging work, even if every second is not easy.

    Outside of the literature on education, I think parenting books and other sources have long suggested that there is value in acknowledging kids for the process rather than only the outcome. In different settings this may mean acknowledging persistence, effort, sportsmanship, teamwork, and other attributes one wants to encourage.
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    May 9 2013: “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

    If it wasn't for grit I wouldn't be here. The ability to "keep chugging along" is paramount. You must be able to keep moving in the face of obstacles.

    That's the test in life. That's the one thing that challenges everyone equally. We must be able to keep moving in the face of adversity.
  • May 9 2013: Angela Lee Duckworth says we do not know how to develop grit. Maybe that is because we usually pair grit with determination, but they are intertwined, and both refer to one's sense of selfhood, of self-reliance. The term grit adds an edge of resilience in the face of difficulty and discouragement. So how do we develop selfhood? If she is after a universal formula I doubt she will find it, but one perspective that I like is Erving Goffman's, which he espouses in his writings on total institutions: "it is . . . against something that the self can emerge. . . Without something to belong to, we have no stable self, and yet total commitment and attachment to any social unit implies a kind of selflessness. Our sense of being a person can come from being drawn into a wider social unit; our sense of selfhood can arise through the little ways in which we resist the pull."
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    May 14 2013: Hi Morton, not enough room for all of them, e.g. being shot at, almost being stabbed outside a court, two serious car crashes, being run over by a work colleague (long story) and so on.

    But, the big one was when I fell through a roof, and amongst a number of serious and permanent physical injuries I sustained an acquired brain injury, which effected my short-term memory and recall under stress. This went undiagnosed (or at least disputed depending on whose doctor I saw - my employers or my lawyers). In 2006, I was properly diagnosed after visiting a learning and development psychologist. This was during my business degree and I found that the injury also impacts my ability to undertake complex maths, like statistics and accounting - two core subjects for the degree, yeah for me! I almost quit, but life sent me a guru (in my mind) in 2006 and he helped me through my business degree, my masters of education, and was around briefly to see me start my doctorate (he was quickly and sadly taken from us last year).

    I have an absolute passion for adult education and refocussing adults on learning how to learn through the use of dominant learning modalities. This is how my experience made a difference. I used what I learnt on how to learn and study for my degree and masters. When I moved to the police academy in my state I used what I did and developed a study plan that so far has been used by approximately 200 + recruits, and the feedback has been positive and several indicated if it was not for the study plan they may not have made it. So, that's how I made a difference; and coincidently found a topic for my doctorate.

    So, for me grit is about not quitting - no matter how hard it is. It hasn't been easy and it has been taxing on me and my family, but for me it is about seeing how far I can get and do. Life is about sacrifices, and my injuries have caused me to sacrifice a lot, but I have (I hope) compensated with other stuff. Only time will tell I suppose.
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    May 13 2013: Grit is like petrol in a car. No petrol , no movement.
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    May 13 2013: Having grit means having a drive . You are in a Marathon or sprinting, drive leads you to your destination.
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    May 12 2013: I learned early in life that GOD gifted me with a very special dispensation for children. I began babysitting at the age of thirteen and was always a trusted sitter who was requested. My mother told me that I would have a household full of kids she was right! I raised a blended family with (6) children which by most account was a true test to my calling. To God be the glory I was able to raise well rounded children. I became a child advocate for the state of Indiana which further propelled me into my calling. I well children and look forward to edifying their lives.
  • May 10 2013: Yes! And what a ride it is!
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    May 10 2013: Robert, I totally agree. I find clever and smart your description of the topic. I am convinced that grit is -now and forever- an important tool of the 'box', of course. But to use many other tools and to know how and when use they, is also esential.
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    May 10 2013: the question is How to do this...why don't we teach, what we ought to teach...why do we simply ignore the most important thing..did we forget the fuel for the train?...."every one needs help along the way".....
  • May 10 2013: Any grit I have been so blessed to experience and occasionally achieve always has a painful struggle associated. My personal grit is commonly entwined with devotion and love of my spouse, children, siblings, and parents.

    I happen to be what I call the "last mohican" in our family working to carry on a 7th generation family cattle ranch. The struggle and grit required in this lifetime, legacy endeavor will quite often be full of family blessings and loving goal achievements. Teaching this grit occurs BEST by modeling.

    Our institutions can structure this same modeling and mentoring and tutoring with easy administrative leadership. Many organizations do this VERY successfully today; and our opportunity to look, listen, learn and "DO IT" is omnipresent.

    Thank you Angela for beautiful leadership on a vital topic. God bless TED :):)
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    May 9 2013: I think it does. I like to think of it as a willingness to communicate. Matt Ridley, in his lecture on TED, talks about how he equates the ability to communicate above IQ. But before you can communicate you have to be able to face the situation at hand (see it as it is), so I agree. I suppose that any goal worth pursuing is going to present formidable challenges, I think the trick is to view them as barriers that can be overcome rather than stops. So the focus should remain on the goal. Infinitely easier said than done.