Long ago, I came to the realization that my wife is far smarter and naturally talented than me. (It would have been easier to swallow if this were simply isolated to mental acumen, but sadly, it pretty much pervades all aspects of life. Email me if you want to hear some stories.) However, when it came to grades in high school, I did better. How is it that those of modest talent very often outperform their more talented counterparts? Most chalk this up to effort (aka “trying”) but what is it specifically that allows the Rudys of the world to perform better in school or other long term endeavors than someone who is more naturally talented? Recently, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania has coined the term “grit” to describe this attribute. She defines grit as "sticking with things over the very long term until you master them." She evaluated the performance of Ivy League students, students at the West Point, and competitors at the National Spelling Bee relative to grit scores and found that those with higher grit scores had higher GPAs (Ivy League students), higher likelihood of completing grueling military training (West Point), and higher likelihood to advance to the finals of the National Spelling Bee competition.
Anyone who wants to be successful in a long-term endeavor (career, school, family, etc.) needs some level of grit. For those involved with evaluation of talent (e.g. resident and fellow selection), it would obviously be great to somehow assess someone’s level of grit. Though there are currently no validated (and ethical) ways to assess grit, the good news is that it can be learned. Dr. Duckworth found higher levels of grit in older individuals, suggesting that grit was acquired through life experience. Therefore, all of us should do our best to cultivate this attribute in ourselves and those whom we train or lead—the only question is how best to do this.
I would like to acknowledge Dr. Christian Cox for bringing Dr. Duckworth’s research to my attention.