This book has been a guide to succeeding “in the marathon of life” by using grit. In this conclusion, Duckworth offers some final ideas. First, people can become grittier in two ways: “from the inside out” by working on interest, practice, purpose, and hope; or “from the outside in” by learning from other people. Second, success isn’t the same thing as happiness—but Duckworth’s research shows that grit is strongly correlated with both.
Duckworth summarizes the central arguments in her book. First, the key to long-term success is grit, a personality trait that combines a consistent passion for a specific field with a tendency to persevere against obstacles. Second, grit isn’t set in stone—instead, it’s something people can develop over time, especially if they find the right resources and strategies to do so.
Grit also may have some downsides—for example, gritty people might make their families and colleagues unhappy. For instance, Duckworth’s children often complain that she makes everything about grit. At the same time, all in all, they clearly appreciate their gritty mom and want to grow up to be like her.
Grit is the key to success, but only when success is defined as personal and professional achievement. Of course, this covers most people’s goals, especially in the US’s achievement-oriented culture. Moreover, most of Duckworth’s advice (like how to discover and develop one’s interests) can apply to everyone. Still, some people might not want to organize their lives around achieving particular goals, and so they might not need to focus on grit.
Next, Duckworth wonders if it’s possible to be too gritty. Psychologists know that with most personality traits (like courage, generosity, and self-control), the ideal state is a balance, not an extreme. And while Duckworth’s research suggests that more grit is generally better, she also knows that sometimes it’s smarter to give up. For instance, she quit playing the piano and learning French so she could focus on more important goals. Still, Duckworth’s research suggests that nobody wants to decrease their grit, and most people will benefit from improving it.
In theory, it’s possible to imagine people who are so gritty that they stick with things they should give up, or so singularly focused on particular professional goals that they miss out on essential life experiences, relationships, and so on. But grit doesn’t necessitate any of this, and as a practical matter, Duckworth implies that almost nobody actually reaches this level of gritty workaholism. Her readers may or may not fully agree—and if they don’t, they can simply apply the parts of Duckworth’s research that they find useful and ignore the rest.
Some audiences think Duckworth believes “grit is the only thing that matters.” But she doesn’t. For instance, she believes that morality is more important than grit. While grit is an important intrapersonal virtue (relating to self-control), social and intellectual virtues are also key to people’s character. Other audiences think that Duckworth gives children unrealistic expectations by trying to make them all into gritty geniuses like Mozart. But grit is about constant self-improvement and fulfilling one’s potential—not becoming Mozart.
These misinterpretations of Duckworth’s research are understandable, since she constantly talks about grit and almost nothing else. Similarly, gritty people aren’t all automatically benevolent, admirable, and accomplished—although Duckworth would argue that they’re certainly far more likely to be. Grit is just one component of personality, and while it’s possible for everyone to improve their grit, it’s not realistic for everyone to become a gritty genius.
Finally, Duckworth describes how writer Ta-Nehisi Coates just won a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” But once, he was a struggling, unemployed journalist. Coates says that failure is the key to his work, because writing “is failure. Over and over and over again.” He describes writing as refining terrible ideas into less terrible ones, day by day, until they’re good enough to succeed in print. Duckworth argues that this is how all true accomplishments happen: through grit.
Coates’s attitude toward writing neatly encapsulates Duckworth’s primary thesis about grit: even when success looks like the product of natural genius, it generally depends on a long, arduous process of practice, improvement, and self-discovery. The key to navigating this process successfully is learning to set high expectations, failing to meet them “over and over and over again,” and pushing on anyway. All “geniuses” start out as ordinary people with ordinary problems, with one key difference: they’re gritty.
When Duckworth’s father called Duckworth “no genius,” he wrongly thought that genius meant succeeding effortlessly. But nobody can do that. Instead, Duckworth argues, real genius means constantly pushing for excellence and improvement. By this definition, anyone can be a genius, including Duckworth, her father, Coates, and even the reader.
Duckworth concludes Grit by reiterating how the evidence she has presented throughout the book allows people to reevaluate conventional attitudes about skill and achievement. For Duckworth, her father’s ideas about genius represent these conventional attitudes. But learning the truth about grit and achievement has shown her that people’s ability is not fixed. In fact, just the opposite is true: ability and achievement depend more on effort than any other factor. And by learning to view achievement as the result of hard work, people can begin to truly recognize and fulfill their own potential.