Book review: Grit

How many coffee chats?

It wasn't a short book, but I would estimate 5-10 chats just to get a download of the key takeaways. As with a lot of psychology related books, there are a lot of really fun examples, but not all are necessary to comprehend the main points, which are also usually pretty intuitive to understand.

You'll benefit from reading this book if...

  • Your children are currently in middle school, or just stared high school. One of the key takeaways is that the work ethic that students build (mostly pre-college) will help develop the necessary grit that carries on for a lifetime.
  • People who want to see results. Yes, sometimes you can applaud yourself for simply trying hard. But did you really try hard enough if you didn't stick it out until you saw real results? This book will help you understand that the path to expertise, success, and otherwise great results are often times painful, repetitive, and boring.
  • People without passion. I resonate most with this category. Throughout high school, college, and early years of my professional career, I didn't have a true passion for anything specific. I enjoyed learning about physics, but there would be kids who are somehow doing extra work and winning olympiads. I enjoyed playing field hockey and running the 110m hurdle, but there would always be a fellow teammate with immense talent and passion who would be willing to put in 2-3x more effort into improving their records. I played the violin from age 7, but hated taking lessons for as long as I can remember. I didn't have outstanding passion in anything I did. What this book taught me is that grit comes in two folds - passion and perseverance. Passion alone won't take you very far, but neither will only perseverance. Also, the path to finding your passion is rarely something that you get easily, but more like a "compass -- takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately, you want to be." I think I only recently realized what this is at age 29, and it's given me more clarity in the last 3 months than the previous years combined.
  • College and professional athletes. I wasn't one, but I have so much respect for these people. And so does Angela Duckworth. Perfecting the art of an athletic skill takes the passion, perseverance, and deliberate practice over the course of months, if not years. It truly epitomizes grit to be able to get up and push your physical limit a tiny bit every day.
  • People who feel burnt out. Recently, I had a conversation with someone who had attended an extremely competitive high school. He said he saw his classmates push themselves hard, and learned to do that for himself too. He regretfully said he missed out on his youth because of the constant academic pressure. I think this book gives a gentle pat on the shoulder to the bunt out. While they may be burnt out today, they now know the art of deliberate practice. They should be able to apply it to anything else they set their mind to.

Why you should read anything from this author

  • Science. Most of the findings in this book have been discovered/confirmed through the scientific method - forming a hypothesis, conducting a controlled experiment, then being published in a peer reviewed journal. I trust the scientific process to have outputs that are objective and lasting, until proven otherwise.
  • She's humble. Or is really good at humble bragging. But either way she attributes her success to her grit, and not much else. I personally trust people more when they are humble since generally I find these people to be more grounded in facts and reality than narcissism.
  • She was an educator. She quit her McKinsey job and took a sharp pay cut to become a math and science teacher in NYC and SF (I seriously respect this). Not only that, some interesting first-hand experience from her teaching days were shared in the book that supports the argument. The kids with talent would understand the material much quicker, but the kids with grit - who stayed behind to ask questions, who put in more energy to their assignments, who ask for more challenges beyond the class work - were the ones who ended up acing the courses.

Why you'd want to take this with a gain of salt

  • Grit might not be your life goal. Grit may be the shortest path to a well-defined success in a competition or skill mastery. But to others, success may mean enjoying the process, meeting new people, and learning new things.

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