I’ll take GRIT over SMARTS any day!

As my daughter is in the throes of college prep and taking the ACT, I am brought back to yesteryear when I too took (and did very poorly on) this test.  My math score was so low that my mom (who I now realize could not afford it) hired a tutor to help me drag my score out of the toilet. We worked problem after problem together but sadly they remained just that…very large problems indeed.  I remember opening my new score in great anticipation to find that alas, nothing had changed. My math score was exactly the same. Mom valiantly stayed quiet.

I look back and see that I then lacked—and still lack—math aptitude.  But what I had—and have—I have come to realize is infinitely more valuable.  It is a characteristic that Amy Duckworth (of the above mini-TED talk) calls GRIT.  She says that GRIT is “passion and perseverance for very long periods of time” and that GRIT is either “unrelated or even inversely correlated to measures of talent” or intellect!!  

This rings beautifully true to me because quite frankly, I am not very ‘smart’ in the ACT-test-taking kind of way, but I’ve come to own up that I am ‘gritty’.  I have this crazy capacity to stick with things and stay laser focused for a freakishly long time on an idea or project and I use my grit to creatively get where I want to go.  I took that abysmal ACT score and for a full year I boarded the city bus for the hour ride to a state college because they took anyone.  I did this because I just knew that my grit would earn me the grades that would allow me to transfer to my ACT-conscious ‘dream’ university as a non-ACT-disclosing (but high achieving) transfer student.  It worked.  And my grit (and hours and hours and hours of study) eventually scored me an academic scholarship.

I didn’t know it had an actual name, but I knew from early on that I needed to work my tail off to overcome the reality that things didn’t often come quickly to me.  Never a poem collector, I did have one that I loved enough to copy down and tape to my 1980’s rainbow wallpapered bedroom wall. I read it so many times that it still rolls off of my tongue. I see now that it offered my young self hope that I might indeed find success through what I considered the back door.  Good for me.

“ Success”

If you want a thing bad enough

To go out and fight for it,

Work day and night for it,

Give up your time and your peace and your sleep for it

If only desire of it

Makes you quite mad enough

Never to tire of it,

Makes you hold all other things tawdry and cheap for it

If life seems all empty and useless without it

And all that you scheme and you dream is about it,

If gladly you’ll sweat for it,

Fret for it,

Plan for it,

Lose all your terror of God or man for it,

If you’ll simply go after that thing that you want.

With all your capacity,

Strength and sagacity,

Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,

If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,

Nor sickness nor pain

Of body or brain

Can turn you away from the thing that you want,

If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,

You’ll get it!”

Berton Braley