Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tolerating Suck

How important is drive, in addition to talent?

“I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do"...

Consider, for instance, a recent study led by Duckworth that measured the grittiness of cadets at West Point, the elite military academy. Although West Point is highly selective, approximately 5 percent of cadets drop out after the first summer of training, which is known as “Beast Barracks.” The Army has long searched for the variables that best predict whether or not cadets will graduate, using everything from SAT scores to physical fitness. But none of those variables were particularly useful. In fact, it wasn’t until Duckworth tested the cadets of the 2008 West Point class using a questionnaire - the test consists of statements such as “Setbacks don’t discourage me” - that the Army found a measurement that actually worked. Duckworth has since repeated the survey with subsequent West Point classes, and the result is always the same: the cadets that remain are those with grit.

One of my midshipmen lent me a book and gave me another; both are first-hand accounts, one from a marine and one from a soldier, of time spent in our current Middle East wars. I read about what they went through and I think, "there's no way I could do that." My life is too easy, and that life is too hard.

But people say the same thing to me when I tell stories about West Point. I guess that having gone through West Point, I have a different perspective--it's not so hard to go through, especially when everyone around you is going through the same thing.

Maybe it's that sense of camaraderie, combined with an internal drive to succeed, that makes it possible. I certainly knew people who seemingly had "what it takes", but chose to quit anyway. Maybe it's not the just ability to tolerate suck, but the willingness to tolerate suck, that allows people stay and prosper in a place like West Point, where they have the option to leave.

And maybe that ability and willingness, along with camaraderie, are what allow people to tolerate the conditions our fighters endured, and continue to endure, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1 comment:

Ellen K said...

I think John Stossel's pieces comparing Canadian care to what we have here are absolutely golden. His debate with Jobba the Hut, played by Michael Moore, was an absolutely revealing profile of the snide and elitist nature of the far left in this country. They not only don't want to listen to voters, they don't want to listen to the facts. And if people don't start raising some cane, we will be stuck with an ineffectual, costly program similar to what now bankrupt Britain enjoys.