The Power of Grit: Journeying through the Mud

“What matters… is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.”

-Paul Tough,  How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character


Character matters. It is often the thing that separates those that succeed and those that do not. People may have all of the technical skills in the world, but if they do not have the determination and work ethic to accompany those skills, they are often out of luck.

There has been a lot of buzz recently about “grit.” The word can be found in books (such as Paul Tough’s quoted above), articles, blog posts, and countless school and classroom walls. However, I find that it is often misunderstood and difficult for children to grasp.  Unless explicitly taught, children often do not quite understand grit and how to use it in their everyday lives; however, on the other hand, children encounter the power of grit on a daily basis.  By helping children understand the power of grit, educators are able to harness and hone a skill/character trait increasingly important in modern society.

Whenever I teach grit, I always start with an image, helping students feel what grit is done to their core.

Imagine yourself running through a pit of mud.  You see something that you really want at the end of pit—sneakers, a friend, the finish line—and you are giving everything you got to get through the mud.  But it is hard and gets harder with every step as you immerse yourself deeper in the mud.  But you will not be stopped! You reach deep inside of you and gather the strength—physical and emotional—to reach the other side.  Despite the excruciating challenge, you make it.  That is grit.

Although similar in nature, grit is different from its close relative determination.  Grit requires more action, more gut-wrenching perseverance, and not being afraid to get dirty to get things done.  It is not glamorous and the rewards may not be realized right away.  But it matters. 

Grit is often the characteristic that separates the good from the great from the exceptional—in academics, athletics, and life. 


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