Grit seems to have been written for those who find the maxim “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” too pithy to be useful—thus the 352-page elaboration. A professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, author Angela Duckworth begins by exploring the distinction between “grit,” which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance directed toward a goal, and natural talent, the ability to achieve a goal without excessive or prolonged effort. Grit will get you farther than talent alone, she maintains, adding that “talent is no guarantee of grit.”
Perhaps the fact that Duckworth’s Chinese immigrant father regularly told his children, “You’re no genius,” made the concept of grit more remarkable to her than it is to American kids who are routinely assured they can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough. Whatever her inspiration, she anatomizes grit in great detail—how it can be grown from the inside out by reflective and persistent individual effort and from the outside in by parental and cultural nourishment. She clearly takes it as a given that right-thinking people will want to seek their personal best rather than settle for their personal adequate. To her, reaching and extending a goal is valuable in its own right, whether it’s something useful, such as becoming a more effective teacher, or something socially useless, such as swimming farther or faster than anyone did before. Achievement is her polestar.
In fairness, she might have noted that every day spent in grueling practice or apprenticeship—of exercising and perfecting grit—is a day lost to the exquisite pleasures of wool-gathering and cloud-gazing. But that is not her world.