Channeling Sisyphus...or GRIT and why it matters.
I recently read Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Man, let me tell you, I found myself nodding along with her words, whispering "YES!" under my breath to avoid waking my sleeping husband, and underlining like a mad woman.
Duckworth is a round-about psychologist, meaning she came to the field of psychology in a round about manner by an unconventional path but, wow, I'm so glad she made it! Never mind receiving degrees from prestigious institutions like Harvard, Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania, she is quite accomplished - a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, professor of psychology at the university of Pennsylvania, advisor to the World Bank, NBA, NFL, and Fortune 500 CEOs. Her focus of study and research is to advance scientific insights which help children thrive. (Talk about giving someone an inferiority complex! Still, readers feel they are in the hands of an expert when reading GRIT or watching Angela's TEDTalks.)
At any rate, we all know smart people who can't seem to manage to get ahead. We know intelligent people who fail to recognize or capitalize on potential. We also know people who were mediocre students (at best) who have managed to succeed beyond anyone's expectations. We know people who have very little perceptible talent who have somehow made a name for themselves in their chosen industry. I'm sure we have all shared several "SMH" moments when we hear about the unlikely successes of the class clowns or the even more unlikely mundanity of those who were voted "Most Likely to Succeed." Duckworth asks why this phenomena occurs and provides an answer. GRIT.
In summary, GRIT is that intangible quality or characteristic some people have which simply will not allow them to quit on their passions. Smart, talented people without grit may not put in the effort necessary to excel while their grittier counterparts who lack natural talent or high IQ's will experience tremendous success and satisfaction by dint of their passion and perseverance. Duckworth explains that mere practice or study is not enough. We must engage in "deliberate practice" which finds the edge of our expertise or skill and sets goals just on the other side of that edge. By engaging in "deliberate practice," we are focusing on what we are doing wrong. We are seeking the negative feedback in order to identify our own personal "do-better" agenda.
For us as writers, negative feedback is often heartbreaking. However, gritty writers will take a day to wallow in our feelings and then go straight back to the paper and pen, or keyboard, to fix what went wrong with our story. We learn from the negatives and are better for what we've learned. Our passion for our craft insists we continually and deliberately work towards unattainable perfection, instead of giving up. Like Sisyphus, we keep rolling that boulder uphill, edging it closer to the summit. Gritty writers recognize that each correction, revision, edit, rejection, (and repeat), brings us closer to the possibility of getting it right - eventually.
So, my dear readers, keep pushing your boulders! And, do pick up a copy of Duckworth's book. Find your grit.