Reading Notes: Grit

Jun 2019, updated May 2022

Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.
Angela Duckworth, Grit

This is such an attractive thesis: for all of us, success is within reach. The book’s fun to read, and the argument is clearly presented. (I wish more scientists wrote books like this.) That said, “grit trumps everything” seems too neat a conclusion for something as complex as human achievement. Throughout the book, there’s not much discussion of the evidence for alternative explanations of success, and most of the studies cited were done by the author or closely-affiliated researchers (and the scientific literature has a widespread reproducibility crisis).

Update: this article specifically attacks the grit thesis and cites many of Duckworth’s papers, but the actual study is behind a paywall.


The book is clear and fun, but doesn’t lend itself to great quotes. The quotes Duckworth pulls from other works are amazing, though!

You have made a convert of an opponent in one sense, for I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; and I still think this is an eminently important difference.
Charles Darwin, quoted in Chapter 2

Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are dampened, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.
William James, quoted in Chapter 2

No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become. That is its advantage, for whenever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool…Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius. For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking…To call someone “divine” means: “here there is no need to compete.”
Nietzsche, quoted in Chapter 3

Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But that path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths.
Martha Graham, quoted in Chapter 7

The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
George Bernard Shaw, quoted in Chapter 12

Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.
John Wooden, quoted in Chapter 12


The Mundanity of Excellence