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Jan 04, 2018

Getting Acquainted with Grit

Brené Brown captured it best: once you see something, you can’t unsee it.

I hear you, this sounds pretty obvious.  But when we’re confronted with harrowing insight into our weaknesses----especially if we’ve perceived these shortcomings as strengths---who wouldn’t want a little bit of “unseeing?” 

Dr. Brown, as she describes in The Gifts of Imperfection, experienced this when her own research contradicted everything she thought she knew about wholehearted living.  Concepts like creativity, rest, play, and intuition emerged from her data, running counter to her own values of achievement and ambition.  She realized that she had been resisting many of the practices that were associated with a fuller, more joyous life.

My moment came this past semester at my field placement.  I was fortunate to intern under the Student Assistance Counselor at a local high school, providing individual, small group, and classroom services.  Early on, I learned of the district’s initiative to cultivate grittiness in students, and part of my role would be to deliver presentations and activities to help foster that hardiness.  I secretly love giving presentations, but on grit? I may have rolled my eyes to myself.  In fact, I definitely did. 

The idea of grit, I thought, was boring.  So we’re going to encourage kids to work harder and not give up?  Do your homework, go to practice, go to bed the same time every night, and stay off your phones for a few minutes a day.  It seemed so straightforward, so apparent.  Talent, on the other hand, I believed was a more intriguing concept, as it relates to the exceptional rather than the mundane.

And then, I took the Grit Scale, developed by Dr. Angela Duckworth, to gauge my baseline grittiness. Item by item, my snarkiness came out:

New ideas and projects often distract me. Check.  I’m a creative type, shouldn’t this be the case?

I often set goals but later choose to pursue new ones.  Totally.  Flexibility is next to goddess-liness.

My interests change from year to year.  Guilty as charged.  I’m a curious person. Curiosity and intelligence go hand in hand.

I submitted my responses to the ten question inventory.  Within seconds, I faced the humbling reality that I was in the 20th percentile.  In other words, 80% of respondents were grittier than I was.  My first reactions were annoyance, rationalization, and shame.  But sometimes, that’s what the truth will do to you.

Knowing that I had some personal work to tackle, I downloaded the audiobook of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  While I’m only a few chapters in, I can tell you that my notion of grit, both it’s definition and it’s value, was all wrong.  The same goes for my over-appreciation of talent.

Talent is important, but it’s raw material.  We often overemphasize talent, failing to give proper credit to the role of effort.  It’s effort that turns talent into skill, and even more effort that turns skill into accomplishment.

Additionally, grit’s a bit more complex than just work ethic.  Sure, adopting a grit-mindset can help us reframe everyday setbacks and temptations, but grit is most essential to helping us achieve our long-term goals---specifically, the things we’re passionate about.

In their respective books, both Dr. Brown and Dr. Duckworth talk about the “things that get in the way” of either living a wholehearted life or achieving success in your area of passion. As for grit, Duckworth relays some advice from Warren Buffet: write down 25 (yes 25) career goals.  Maybe it’s opening a private practice, or publishing a self-help book.  Perhaps it’s finishing your last few Masters courses, writing your dissertation, or doing advocacy work abroad.   Once you have your 25, circle your top five.  As for the remaining 20---stay away from them. While these might be meaningful goals, they’re also distractions for what’s most important to you.

As I think of all my half-painted canvases, unfinished short stories, and incomplete job applications, I am grateful that I can’t “unsee” my grit score. And so, I encourage you to try Buffet’s exercise along with me.  It’s by no means scientific, and you might find (as Duckworth did) that many of your goals are linked to each other, making it tricky to choose or discount certain ones.  Regardless of how you prioritize your goals, the message is that no one has unlimited time and energy.  Being gritty, however, means investing our efforts into what’s truly most significant to us, and making a commitment.


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden.

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.

The Grit Scale, retrieved from
Christine Hennigan Paone is a counselor in training at Monmouth University as well as an aspiring counselor educator.  Her research interests include creativity in counseling, multicultural career counseling, and pedagogy.






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