On Growing Grit

As I write this blog post, a somber scene is playing out 3000 miles away in Washington DC as our country says goodbye to its 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. Since his passing last Friday, the news has been filled with remembrances of this man who led our country, many of them reminding us of the great dignity, humor, and kindness he brought to the highest leadership post in the country.

One story, told last night on our local news was of a young woman who was part of a grade school class that traveled out to the Portland airport to say farewell to President Bush after a visit to Oregon. Now an adult, she showed the watch the president had taken off his wrist and given to her when she admired it. She also shared the story of a fellow classmate who was taken in awe by the fighter jets scrambling to escort Airforce One out of Portland. This young classmate was instantly hooked by the idea of flying at that very moment, and never looked back as he made his way through school and on to a career of flying.

There it is again, I thought! A spark- lit by a chance opportunity to say goodbye to the president. A spark that was lit, then fanned, and then burned brightly in the life and career of this young man. The connection between sparks, grit, achievement, and ultimately giving back to others, is played out each day in the work we do with youth.

The largest span I think is the one between sparks and achievement, and it is in that space that 4-H programs operate. We saw in my last post that the notion of grit, proposed and studied by Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania, is reflected in the effort it takes to learn a skill, and then again in the effort it takes to use the skill to achieve something – as stated earlier, in this equation effort counts twice.

Dr. Duckworth’s research has revealed that, in general, grit grows with age – meaning that adults tend to have higher levels of grit than younger people. Some have interpreted this to mean that youth are just not as hardworking as past generations, but Dr. Duckworth is not convinced of this. Rather, she argues that growing grit is part of a maturation process – that we increase our capacity for sustaining long-term passions (sparks) and perseverance to achieve our goals as we get older. In a nutshell grit grows!

As 4-H educators we have the unique opportunity to grow grit in the youth with whom we work. Growing grit is what happens when we work to identify a young person’s spark, and then support the development of that passion through skill development and achievement.

What steps do you take to grow grit in the youth with whom you work?

We’ll explore some specific ways to grow grit in my next grit post on Monday. But tomorrow please stay tuned for a special guest blog post on what I will call “Food for Thought Fridays.”

But for now, please take a moment today to reflect on a life well lived in the service of others.

Godspeed 41.

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold


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