quality and the quantity of your engagement ruminatively over time. They multiply, if you will, to produce skill, and once you’ve got a skill and you can do something — you can write well, you can present well, or you’re good at solving problems.
It’s the doers I most admire. As you think about yourself, you think, “What are my talents? What are the things that I’m going to be able to sustain effort in over the long term?” In general, that second question is answered more by your interests and your values than by things like salary.
[Consider] my job. It’s not that there aren’t headaches, or that there aren’t disappointments, but to love what you do requires a level of intrinsic interest. The only thing I want to encourage young people about this is, if you introspect a bit and you think, “Wait, I don’t have a passion,” and you’re panicking, just realize that it develops over time.
[email protected]: More and more entrepreneurs and people are following that passion. You may go to work on Wall Street or in a hospital or as a lawyer for a few years, but you make that career shift and follow something else that you have a love for.
Duckworth: The most successful people in life are following something that they could say, “I love what I do.” Most people can’t say, “Oh, I love what I do because I make a lot of money or I love what I do because there are free snacks in the kitchen.” Free snacks are great. But loving what you do is a special kind of happiness.
“I define talent as the rate at which you get better at something when you try.”
[email protected]: You say in your book about when you were teaching in New York City and at times you were distracted by the talent of some of the kids.
Duckworth: When you are working with young people and trying to teach them something, that isn’t just classroom teachers. So many of us are in that mentoring role. [When we’re] trying to teach a young person something new, we can get easily frustrated by the kids who are not picking it up as quickly as we hoped they would or thought they should.
I would often chalk up their lack of learning to their inability, to their lack of talent. Now, I would say that the question should have been, “What am I not doing here as a teacher? How is it that I can get them to learn faster?” It’s extremely unproductive to just lay the burden and the blame at the foot of the student. It’s almost always the case that the teacher could do something differently or better.
[email protected]: Do you think we’re going to see a shift in education because of the understanding that this has to be a factor in success for kids growing up?
Duckworth: Yes, I hope there’s a tectonic shift in how we think about learning. We should think about it as something that we do all the time that is massively influenced by our circumstances and not just by some level of innate ability that we think we can’t change.
Even that is untrue. Your ability to learn is something that changes and depends on your opportunities and your experiences. At the same time, I would urge caution. When we swing wildly from one point of view to another and we think, “Oh, well, grit is the answer to everything and it’s all” — that’s got to be wrong, too. It’s got to be that we are judicious and say, “Okay, well, we’re learning something new here, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s not, for example, assume that Dr. Duckworth knows everything [about] how to change grit, which Dr. Duckworth does not.”
“When you read Warren Buffet’s annual letters, you think — this guy is a world-class psychologist.”
[email protected]: You bring up many examples of different people in this book and there were two — they’re at absolute opposite ends of the spectrum. One is Warren Buffet — many people listening to this channel know the level of success that he has had. Another is Will Smith, the actor and (the lead in the old TV sitcom) the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” How did those two play into the theories that you’re trying to bring forward?
Duckworth: The attraction for me to people like Warren Buffet and Will Smith is they’re a success in that I can try to reverse-engineer who they are. Who are these outliers and what are they like? But actually, it’s more that I find them both to be very psychologically perceptive. When you read Warren Buffet’s annual letters, you think to yourself — or at least, I do — “This guy is a world-class psychologist.”
When I listen to Will Smith — I got to listen to him in person recently, but you watch YouTube videos and you read interviews — he is an extraordinarily psychologically perceptive human being. I feel like they have insights that I see in my own research. But the way that Warren Buffet and especially Will Smith express them, they are just way more fun to listen to.
[email protected]: If you think about it from a business perspective, many people might say, “Okay, well, that may be something that’s more geared for the arts. You know, if you’re a musician or if you’re an artist or an actor, whatever that might be.” That’s probably not the case. Warren Buffet, I would think, has a level of passion for business that probably not many people have out there.
Duckworth: I don’t think passion is something that was reserved for the creative arts, though, of course, those people are passionate. But I have met midwives who are passionate about what they do.
“When you keep hitting a brick wall, it’s not perseverance to keep hitting it. It’s perseverance to take a step back [and] reflect.”
I have had middle-level managers and salespeople who are passionate about what they do. If you get into something — maybe when you’re 18 — you couldn’t even anticipate, that you would fall in love. But there are elements, like, “Oh, I love working with people and complex problems. I like jobs where I am on my feet all the time and I am outside.” There are elements that are hard to predict in advance, but they do come to define what you love.
[email protected]: Perseverance, which is part of your book’s title, is also being able to adapt when things don’t go right and not just — “Oh, okay, well, now I’m done, I can’t complete this project” — but being able to take the turn in the road and get back on path.
Duckworth: In some ways people think that perseverance must mean bull-headedly just heading in one direction no matter what. But when you keep hitting a brick wall, it’s not perseverance to keep hitting it. It’s perseverance to take a step back, maybe a moment or two to reflect and maybe you need to turn left.
The thing to be sticky about, the thing to be tenacious and uncompromising about are your higher-level values that guide what you are doing, that have many roots to it. Oftentimes what