June 09, 2016

Self-Belief, Grit, and Writing

In a recent article in The Atlantic entitled "Is Grit Overrated?", Jerry Useem examines recent research by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth on the topic of GRIT: a sort of hard-to-define special something that is one of the secret ingredients in the sauce of success and a rather persistent ingrained belief--one that can be somewhat damaging, as it turns out, when it comes to us writers. It wasn't a specific thrust of the article but what I found the most interesting was Useem's extrapolation of the problems with grit to some of the recognizable day-to-day tribulations of the writing life.

Duckworth "argues that grit—perseverance plus the exclusive pursuit of a single passion—is a severely underrated component of career success, and that grown-ups, too, need a better understanding of the nature and prevalence of setbacks." And yet there's this: "Ask Americans which they think is more important to success, effort or talent, and they pick effort two to one. Ask them which quality they’d desire most in a new employee, and they pick industriousness over intelligence five to one. But deep down, they hold the opposite view." In other words, we have this deeply ingrained idea that true genius is somehow inherent, inborn, and glamorous, rather than a product of many hours of hard work to overcome obstacles.

Here's the part of the article I found the most interesting, though:

Whatever its origins, the bias has practical implications. Certainly, it suggests that my deep terror of letting anyone see my half-written article drafts is not irrational but adaptive. It perpetuates a myth that I’m a natural—the words just flow out, folks, as fast as I can type!—and hides the far more mundane truth: that the words come out fitfully and woodenly, gradually succumbing to a state of readability only after many seemingly fruitless sessions. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all,” Michelangelo observed. Nietzsche concurred: “Wherever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool.”
Which suggests that Duckworth’s basic admonition, “Embrace challenge,” needs a qualifier: Do it in private. Grit may be essential. But it is not attractive.
It may not be attractive, but I'll tell you one thing: it's reassuring to those of us normal folks whose words do not flow out with constant ease and immediate perfection. And it's hopeful: it implies that, given enough work and time and effort, we, too, can improve and achieve a higher level of creative production.

What thinkest thou about GRIT? Chime in in the comments.

No comments: