First Chair: A Review of Grit

Olivia BaileySeptember 4, 2019EducationMedia
First Chair: A Review of Grit

Think back to the last time you saw something something particularly impressive. Maybe it was at a concert, or in an art museum, or in a book of poetry. How would you explain the musician’s or artist’s or poet’s ability to create something that incredible?

Would your mind first go to the countless hours that person must have spent practicing and practicing and practicing? Would you first think of the rejection letters and the feeling of being stuck in twelfth chair for the third year in a row? Or would you be quick to attribute their mastery to pure talent, and brush it off as something you could never do?

It’s likely that you, like most anyone else, would dismiss the first chair viola’s skill as “talent.” However, according to Angela Duckworth, talent doesn’t really have all that much to do with it. In her book Grit, Duckworth explores hard work’s importance to success, and just how much it outweighs talent. She then goes on to illustrate the studies that she performed to come to this conclusion, and how one might be able to develop “grit.” She talks about setting large and small goals, the difference between growth and fixed mindsets, and outside factors that affect our grit. The most important message that she gets across, however, is that effort is exponentially more important to success than talent is.

Duckworth’s theory, in plainest terms, is this:
effort x talent = skill
effort x skill = achievement

In other words:
talent x effort2 = achievement

Grit is a well-written, inspirational book, and I must say I quite enjoyed it. The writing is conversational, given that it’s a nonfiction book that is, at its heart, a 277-page summary and analysis of an experiment. Duckworth maintains a no-nonsense tone that doesn’t give readers room to doubt anything she’s saying. You will also feel like she’s talking directly to you, every now and then, because yes, you do that, and yes, you’d rather you didn’t. Depending on how you rate on her “Grit Scale,” a test she engineered to figure out just how gritty a person is, reading Grit might make you feel quite confident in yourself, or it might make you feel like you’re doing a lot of things wrong. It’s okay if it makes you feel like you’re messing up, though, because Duckworth didn’t write Grit to make people who’ve been told they’re talented feel bad about themselves, and she certainly didn’t write it to make people feel like grit was some unachievable goal. No, Grit is written in a way that makes you tear yourself apart and analyze your determination to do things, and then sits you down with those pieces and explains, slowly and comprehensively, how to go about fixing yourself up.

Duckworth starts off with a story about how she had been told, all throughout her childhood, that she would never be a genius. She has no argument with this. She doesn’t believe herself to be a genius, if genius means someone who’s just good at things without having to try. But in 2013, Duckworth was offered a MacArthur Fellowship that is only given to “geniuses.” She ends the book with the same story, and after reading 277 pages about the importance of perseverance, the story hits harder. Duckworth was able to achieve this not by being a natural genius, but by sitting down and working, ceaselessly and with everything she had.

In Grit, Duckworth tells the reader that there are two things to take into account when trying to accomplish something: our potential and what we do with that potential. It’s easy to put more emphasis on potential, especially since we’ve been told it’s so important from such a young age. The moment “gifted and talented” programs start appearing, we’re taught to believe that some people will just be better at things than we are. Obviously, we say to ourselves, “gifted and talented” kids will score higher on tests and generally do better in school than the other kids, because they have a higher potential to do so. Except that’s not true. It doesn’t matter if you have an aptitude for math or not. If you take the time to do all your homework, ask questions when you’re confused, take notes, and study as much as you can, you will be good at math. All it takes is some perseverance.

Maintaining that perseverance, however, can be harder than it sounds. You need to really want to accomplish your goal. But if you really, really love the viola, then you don’t need to have an aptitude for reading sheet music and you don’t need to get all the fingerings right on the first try. All it takes to work your way up to that dream-like first chair is practice — a lot of practice, and a lot of failures to go along with it.

I would rate Grit a full five out of five stars. It has good, well-paced writing and an authoritative tone that keeps you reading and quickly breaks down any guilt-driven opposition you might have to what Duckworth says. It’s also a fiercely inspirational book. I had to take several breaks from reading to reevaluate my life choices, and I’ve already started implementing some of Duckworth’s strategies into my life. They’re very helpful to keep in mind right now, with finals quickly approaching. I’m not a particularly gritty person (I scored a 3.7 out of 5 on the scale), and I’m proud to say that Duckworth has taught me a lot about what I need to do to change that.

I sincerely hope you’re going to click off of this article having decided to read Grit. It will change the way you look at your life, probably permanently. You’ll no longer look at things you want to be good at and think “I wish.” You’ll start thinking “okay, how can I get there?” or “how can I get better?” And once you’ve changed the mentality that you started to develop way back in kindergarten when Johnny got into the gifted and talented program and you didn’t (or maybe you’re Johnny and you never learned how to work hard, because you were told you didn’t need to), you’ll be able to accomplish just about anything. Then, there’s only one thing you can do. You sit down, and you get to work. You’ll fail a lot, and you’ll get stuck. But it will all be worth it for the applause that washes over you that much more intensely when you’re in first chair.

Olivia Bailey is 13 and heading into eighth grade at Frank Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, Maine. Her hobbies include reading every fantasy novel she can get her hands on, writing about Odorea (a world she created with her friends), drawing constantly, skiing at Saddleback Mountain Ski Area, and playing with her dog, Piper, who enjoys chewing up things bigger than she is. Olivia is working hard to get her whole school to participate in mindfulness and has nearly succeeded.