Key Coverage

Is Grit Overrated?

The ascent of Duckworth’s buzzword owes a lot to her prior doubts about her own grittiness. Clearly, she had talent—a characteristic that Duckworth defines as “how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort.” It’s what enabled her, in her 20s, to hopscotch from one station in the meritocracy to another: Marshall Scholar at Oxford (where she picked up a neuroscience degree), speechwriting intern at the White House, management consultant at McKinsey, and finally science teacher at a charter school. But at age 32, she told me recently, stricken by the thought that she was a dilettante—a promising beginner who always would be one—she enrolled in the doctoral program at Penn, and made a vow not to look sideways for 10 years. Then she set about solving a puzzle that had vexed her during her teaching days: how to get kids to persevere just a little longer in tackling problems that exceeded their current skill set.