“What is Character?”: NYT Best-Selling Author Addresses Andover Community

What do cadets training at West Point, teachers working at some of the most challenging schools, and children competing in the National Spelling Bee have in common? According to Angela Duckworth, the answer is simple: grit.

Duckworth, a Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, author of The New York Times bestselling book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” and recipient of 2013 MacArthur Genius Fellowship, spoke Wednesday night in Cochran Chapel about the importance of character and grit and afterwards recorded an episode of Andover’s “Every Quarter” podcast defining what grit means to her.

“When I say grit, I mean that aspect of character that encourages us to be passionate about what we’re doing and persevering over a very, very long time period. So, both passion and perseverance for long-term goals,”she said in her podcast recording.

However, Duckworth highlighted how being gritty does not imply that one should neglect self-care and happiness to achieve a goal.

“When people are doing things that really harm themselves, and others, in the long-term [such as] not giving your friends your attention, not taking care of your health, not sleeping enough, feeling really bad about yourself because of failure, [they aren’t] actually being gritty because grit is about long-term stamina, and nobody can keep that up in the long term,” she said in the podcast. “And nobody should want to keep that up. So the magic of grit isn’t pulling all-nighters and being a crazy person. I think the magic of grit is knowing where you’re going.”

In a question-and-answer session at the end of her talk, Duckworth spoke directly to the Andover students in attendance and gave one takeaway she really hoped they would remember.

“Life is really hard and there are going to be times when you’re going to be sad or anxious and make bad decisions… I know this is kind of a downer message, but I want to tell you that ultimately, it’s going to be okay,” she said. “And here’s a little science to comfort you: I can show you graphs of development over time, and where you are is like the perfect storm of emotional turmoil… So many things are in flux, and it can be a torturous time, to be honest. But, if I showed you these graphs of happiness, of character development, of grit, of well-being, of meaning and purpose, they all go up.”

Miriam Feldman ’18, an attendee of the talk and subsequent dinner session, said Duckworth was personable and engaging.

“I just want to say that everyone who wasn’t here should go watch it on MediaSpace right now,” she said. “The dinner in particular was a really amazing experience because she took the time to really listen to people, engage with the struggles of being a student at Andover [or any] high-powered learning environment.”

Max Rigby-Hall ’18, another attendee, said, “The conversations she held with us, and her talk, really relates to this campus, and is something that is very applicable to us as a student body, and something that relates to privilege, which is something we talk about a lot.”