Calling herself “the biggest fan of Dan Chambliss,” whose research she cites in her best-selling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth explained to a large Chapel audience that success depends on grit - the propensity to pursue goals with sustained passion.
A 2013 MacArthur Fellow and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth is founder and director of the Character Lab. She lectured at Hamilton on Feb. 21 as the Morris Visiting Fellow, which brings pre-eminent scholars in the sciences and mathematics to campus.
With enthusiasm, wit and candor, Duckworth talked about “grit.” Contrary to popular belief, which identifies talent as the necessary quality for achievement, Duckworth demonstrated the importance of grit for both long-term success and life satisfaction, taking examples from pop culture icons, personal anecdotes, Chambliss’s award-winning research on Olympic swimmers and her own data.
Duckworth first drew a distinction between effort and talent. “Your talent is not the same as how hard you’ll work,” she said. “Talent counts in my book—but effort counts twice.” This difference between these terms is significant for fulfilling goals. Duckworth theorized that talent and potential must be multiplied by effort to transform into skill, and skill multiplied by effort then equals achievement. In both equations, effort is the driving factor.
Throughout her talk, Duckworth acknowledged Chambliss and his prize-winning paper, “The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers,” as an integral part of her theory of grit. “I remember the first time I read it. I didn’t get up until I read the whole thing, and then I read it again in one sitting.” She continued, “The insight is that excellence is not magical, instantaneous or talent. It’s this mundane cycle: set a goal, focus 100 percent, get feedback, make variations and then do it again.”
Duckworth made it clear that effort is not just time spent on a given activity, but also how that time is spent. “If there’s one thing I taught you tonight,” she urged to the audience, “it’s not about the hours, but the quality of those hours.” Specifically, Duckworth cautioned against multitasking and endorsed a four-step cycle of grit. In doing so, she addressed the audience directly: “This is available to each and every one of you.”
For many in the audience, this lecture was simultaneously thought-provoking, motivating and uplifting. After the discussion portion of the event, one student, Sharon Di ’17, commented, “Dr. Duckworth’s lecture cast my work at Hamilton in a new light and made me realize that grit is essential— As a senior I know this will be an important lesson when I leave the Hill, as I pursue a new set of goals.”