I took my first dressage lesson when I was 18 years old. This was eight years after buying my first pony “Stormy” for $35 when I was 10. There was a little issue with my parents when the pony arrived unexpected, but I will be forever grateful for my brother who helped me withdraw the money from my savings account to buy him. The unexpected arrival of the pony in our backyard is still something of family lore, but I do think it was the moment that my parents realized I was SERIOUS about this riding thing.
I took my latest dressage lesson a week ago Friday, wedged between two out of state trips. Part of me thought, “oh, why do you want to add this to everything you have on your plate right now?” But the bigger part of me said “you are making so much progress all of a sudden, it is worth the effort.” So I loaded up Little Scholar (yup that is really his name) on a Friday night and drove 47 miles north to have a riding lesson from my master teacher, Heather. Arriving home late that night I was tired, sweaty, hungry, and feeling very accomplished. Somehow, the effort involved in achieving my dream of riding the Grand Prix dressage is worth it.
I don’t talk the particulars of my dressage training too often, because it is sort of hard to explain that I have been taking riding lessons for all these years. “Haven’t you learned to ride yet?” is the common response, and I find it easier not to talk about it at all than answer that question. But the truth is that all these years of riding lessons have helped me developed skill. And I am only now applying that skill to a fantastically talented young horse, that I hope will someday result in achieving my goal of riding the Grand Prix dressage.
I had plenty of plane time this last week as I headed to Albuquerque for a meeting of Extension program evaluators from the Western Region. I was lamenting having to leave again, not because I don’t enjoy my work to the core of my being, but because traveling means I miss riding days, and it feels like I have missed a lot during this busy fall season. As I thought about this more, I realized that I missed mostly being out of the saddle because I could not put time in toward my goal. There was no amount of effort I could put into riding from my seat on the airplane to help things progress! I had to wait to get home again to move forward.
So to pass the airtime productively I tucked into Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Dr. Angela Duckworth. And there it was! Her formula about effort counting twice:
Talent (which is really just how fast individuals learn something) X effort = Skill
Skill X effort = achievement.
In Dr. Duckworth’s formula, effort counts twice; once when you are learning something new, and again when you put that newly-learned skill to work towards the achievement of a goal. I suddenly understood that all those riding lessons certainly helped me learn skill (I am a fairly competent rider at this point), and now my effort using those skills is geared toward achieving my goal.
Grit. That is what it is. Grit to stick it out and keep putting out the effort.
Dr. Duckworth’s research has clearly shown that it is not talent that achieves goals, but the effort put in to both learning what needs to be learned, and then putting even more effort into using those learned skills to achieve a goal. In her words, effort counts twice.
So, let’s think about how this applies to youth thriving – particularly in the area of helping youth being open to challenge and discovery. Here grit finds a two-step home. First, think about the youth you work with and the skills they need to learn – no matter what subject area is. Some youth will learn quickly (the talented), some will have to put in more effort to learn the skill, but all can. But, now we know learning the skill is not the whole story – even more effort is required to use the skill to achieve a goal. Can you think of a young person who fits this two-step story of grit and success? Are there youth you work with now who can benefit from your understanding of the role of effort times two? How might you apply this to to the youth you are working with today?