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Music and the Spoken Word: Developing grit

POSTED: March 11, 2017 6:51 a.m.
Deseret Connect/

Stay with it and keep trying. Don’t worry if you aren’t the best or brightest, because it’s your grit, more than your talent, that will carry you through to success.

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Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.

Why is it that the most successful people are not always the most gifted or talented? So often, exceptional students, accomplished writers and championship athletes acknowledge that it isn’t natural ability that sets them apart from their peers — it’s their grit. And what is grit?

One researcher defines it as “a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal” (see story of Angela Duckworth in Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2016, and cited in "The Virtue of Hard Things," by Emily Esfahani Smith). She offers a few examples: a cartoonist who submitted some 2,000 drawings to the New Yorker magazine before one was finally accepted; a below-average high school English student who became a best-selling novelist; a Super Bowl quarterback who, after a disappointing first semester in college, wanted to quit and come home, but his strong but loving father told him, “You can quit. … But you can’t come home because I’m not going to live with a quitter” (see Smith, "Hard Things").

According to this research, grit is a better predictor of success than innate ability — and ability does not make a person more likely to have grit. In fact, the research found that the higher a student’s test scores, the less gritty the student tended to be (see Smith's, "The Virtue of Hard Things"). As any teacher or parent can tell you, the child who has to work harder usually gets further ahead in the long run.

And that’s good news for all of us, because while innate ability can’t generally be taught or acquired, grit can. No matter what we have achieved or have not achieved in the past, we can start where we are right now and do something that makes us stretch. Whether it’s learning a new language, developing a hobby, eating a little healthier or reaching out in friendliness to others — whatever it is, if we keep at it, then it can help us develop grit. In time, what at first seemed so challenging becomes easier. That’s the blessing of doing hard things.

So ask yourself, “What am I passionate about?” Then pursue it with perseverance. Stay with it and keep trying. Don’t worry if you aren’t the best or brightest, because it’s your grit, more than your talent, that will carry you through to success.
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