There’s no debate that we live in an age where more and more options for after-school activities and areas for specialization exist. Budding rock climber? Sure – http://brooklynboulders.com/brooklyn/; the next Steve Jobs? Try this – https://coderdojo.com/. Possibilities are endless, but also potentially overwhelming, and it’s impossible to try it all.
So what do we tell our children about picking up, holding on to, and letting go of hobbies and interests? Angela Duckworth, a research psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is working towards an answer to that question. Dr. Duckworth has dedicated her career to researching the psychological construct of “grit,” which she explains as follows:
“…grit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.”
Instilling these qualities, she argues, is what gives people a willingness to persevere through hardships, a skill that transcends the particular arena in which it is learned, and crucial for success in life. Abandoning pursuits that are difficult implies that challenges are intrinsically “bad” as opposed to character-building. Dipping a toe into a vast number of different options might in fact be unhelpful, as there is an unavoidable shallowness necessary to get all that breadth.
So how do we “get grit?” Dr. Duckworth has recently published a book, Grit, meant to explain her research and offer pragmatic advice on building grit http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-book/. She also has a scale for measuring grit that can be taken on her website – http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/.
The ability to persevere through challenges is important, but so too is appreciating one’s limits and preferences. For example, the idea of learning the guitar in spite of its challenges is more than likely a good one. However, if you come to the conclusion that you truly don’t enjoy playing the guitar, continuing purely for the sake of building grit might be a case of energy better directed elsewhere. It seems logical to apply a common-sense approach to grit:
- Be on the lookout for new opportunities
- Try things that have some personal resonance and appeal
- Commit and fully engage in the activity
- Keep committing
- Decide whether it is a winner
It’s as much about the process as the content: the “how” and “why” as well as the “what.”
Now get out there and get some grit.