Grit

by

Angela Duckworth

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Genius Symbol Analysis

Genius Symbol Icon

Ordinary assumptions about “genius” represent the way that most people instinctively attribute success to innate talent, when it’s more often the result of grit. Angela Duckworth opens Grit by recalling that when she was growing up, her father frequently told her that she was “no genius.” Like many people, Duckworth’s father assumed that people’s achievement depends primarily on whether they’re innately smart, creative, or motivated enough to pull ahead of others. But Duckworth’s research shows that effort influences achievement much more than talent does, which means that geniuses aren’t born—they’re made.

Of course, Duckworth is far from the first scholar to make this point. For instance, back in the 19th century, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that most people prefer to view accomplished people as natural geniuses rather than recognize all the effort that goes into their achievement (and compare it to their own lack of effort).

Ironically, as an adult, Duckworth won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” precisely for her research showing that grit (and not talent) is the most important factor in achievement. This represents the alternative view of genius that she lays out at the end of the book. For Duckworth, genius is not the ability to succeed effortlessly, which very few people have. Instead, it’s the drive to constantly improve and achieve excellence at the things that one finds interesting and important. Therefore, everyone is capable of being a genius in the right circumstances.

Genius Quotes in Grit

The Grit quotes below all refer to the symbol of Genius. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Grit published in 2018.
Preface Quotes

There was about a month between the MacArthur call and its official announcement. Apart from my husband, I wasn’t permitted to tell anyone. That gave me time to ponder the irony of the situation. A girl who is told repeatedly that she’s no genius ends up winning an award for being one. The award goes to her because she has discovered that what we eventually accomplish may depend more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent. She has by then amassed degrees from some pretty tough schools, but in the third grade, she didn’t test high enough for the gifted and talented program. Her parents are Chinese immigrants, but she didn’t get lectured on the salvation of hard work. Against stereotype, she can’t play a note of piano or violin.

Related Characters: Angela Duckworth (speaker), Duckworth’s Father
Related Symbols: Genius
Page Number: x
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3: Effort Counts Twice Quotes

We prefer our excellence fully formed. We prefer mystery to mundanity.
But why? What’s the reason for fooling ourselves into thinking Mark Spitz didn’t earn his mastery?

“Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Nietzsche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. . . . To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’ ”

In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook. It lets us relax into the status quo.

Related Characters: Angela Duckworth (speaker), Friedrich Nietzsche (speaker), Dan Chambliss
Related Symbols: Genius
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13: Conclusion Quotes

“You’re no genius,” my dad used to say when I was just a little girl. I realize now he was talking to himself as much as he was talking to me.

If you define genius as being able to accomplish great things in life without effort, then he was right: I’m no genius, and neither is he.

But if, instead, you define genius as working toward excellence, ceaselessly, with every element of your being—then, in fact, my dad is a genius, and so am I, and so is Coates, and, if you’re willing, so are you.

Related Characters: Angela Duckworth (speaker), Duckworth’s Father (speaker), Ta-Nehisi Coates
Related Symbols: Genius
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
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Grit PDF

Genius Symbol Timeline in Grit

The timeline below shows where the symbol Genius appears in Grit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
Developing Grit Theme Icon
Psychology and Human Development Theme Icon
Grit and Society Theme Icon
Angela Duckworth remembers how, when she was young, her father constantly talked about “genius.” He worried that she wouldn’t succeed because she didn’t have enough inborn talent. Ironically enough,... (full context)
Chapter 3: Effort Counts Twice
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
Psychology and Human Development Theme Icon
Grit and Society Theme Icon
...and popular culture almost always explain achievement through talent. Even Duckworth still thinks “What a genius!” when people impress her. She asks why people are unconsciously biased toward talent. The sociologist... (full context)
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
Psychology and Human Development Theme Icon
...about all the effort that goes into extraordinary accomplishments. They focus on the idea of genius or talent, Nietzsche argued, to protect their own vanity. If successful people are just magical... (full context)
Chapter 4: How Gritty Are You?
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
Psychology and Human Development Theme Icon
...and published an 800-page book about her findings. However, her IQ scores didn’t predict which geniuses were more eminent or influential. Neither did most of the 67 personality traits that she... (full context)
Chapter 13: Conclusion
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
Developing Grit Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Passion, Perseverance, and Success Theme Icon
Developing Grit Theme Icon
Psychology and Human Development Theme Icon
When Duckworth’s father called Duckworth “no genius,” he wrongly thought that genius meant succeeding effortlessly. But nobody can do that. Instead, Duckworth... (full context)