Grit is more important than your abilities

Studies are beginning to show that persistence, rather than talent, enables one to succeed.

by Camille Galles

It’s about this time of year that the reality of school finally starts to sink in. As midterm grades arrive, so do some sobering realizations. Maybe your grades aren’t as good as you’d like them to be, or maybe that major you’ve always thought you wanted is actually terrible.

When life knocks us down, it’s easy to want to curl up in bed and hide until challenges pass. But failure isn’t something to fear, and it doesn’t have to be permanent. Rather, failure creates individuals who are ultimately more likely to succeed.

As the school year progresses, students, faculty members and administrators would do well to remember that the ability to keep going in the face of failure is even more important than achievement itself.

Students are constantly surrounded by pressure to do the “right” thing, especially at a high-level university. They’re told to decide on the right major, get the right grades, get the right internship and, eventually, find the right job. When things inevitably don’t go according to the plan, it can be devastating.

But social scientists are beginning to identify a quality that’s more important than having the “right” requirements. It’s called grit, and it’s defined as the determination and resilience to get back up again and again after you fail. Research demonstrates that the ability to persistently pursue long-term goals is even more important than IQ, natural talent or other standard measures of achievement.

Most research and work surrounding grit has focused on K-12 education. Although the exact science of teaching and assessing grit is still in its beginning stages, grit should be explored in more than just seventh-grade math classes. It’s just as important of a factor in college education.

Theoretically, college is supposed to prepare you for the “real world,” a place fraught with obstacles that definitely don‘t come with a grading scale. If the University of Minnesota wants students to succeed in the real world, it needs to instill them with grit.

The Board of Regents recently approved the University’s 2014 Strategic Plan, which included a specific proposal to update and improve liberal education requirements. While the plan emphasizes critical thinking and the examination of broad societal issues, I wish it had recognized the importance of establishing grit.

Liberal arts degrees don’t always have specific career paths attached to them. It’s not easy to find a job or to find creative solutions to those broad societal issues. But those with grit will be able to keep searching until they find that job, research breakthrough, policy strategy or eventual solution to those “broad societal issues.” The University should prioritize researching grit and the best ways to develop it in all of its students, especially those in the College of Liberal Arts.

Until it does, don’t be discouraged by failure. Don’t give up. Be gritty. Because if you keep going, you’ve already won.