Education is more effective when we play to our individual and collective strengths.

Grittiness is a character trait in Rockingham that immediately comes to mind.

At the start of this year, I shared a ‘secret’ to success with our students; a secret known to those who have been able to achieve great things. Angela Duckworth is a world-class, highly respected academic who started her career in education by teaching Year 7 Maths. She was a naturally curious person, and often wondered what it was that helped the high achievers in her class experience success. Her curiosity extended into a wide range of industry areas including the elite military. She completed post graduate studies in psychology, studying the most successful people in their respected fields of work. She discerned them to have GRIT (passion and persistence). Successful people approach life, doing the best that they can every day. For example, successful athletes do their training drills with the same passion that they put into an actual race. It helps them achieve their best possible effort.

People who are successful care about getting it right. They could easily be described as conscientious. Conscientious people care about the things that matter. They do something to achieve a better outcome.

There’s a story in the Bible of a lady on her own and was being treated badly by someone. She knew the way she was being treated wasn’t right, and that it needed to be corrected with justice. She cared enough to improve her circumstances. It seems timely to share this, acknowledging the recent attention with International Women’s Day.

Parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)

‘Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time, he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?’

When I reflected on her circumstances, I sensed she was both gritty and conscientious. She probably would have had to wait in a line each time she tried to see the Judge. Not having a husband in her culture meant she wasn’t considered to be important as others. She didn’t have someone to speak up for her. She had to make things better herself! Interesting that Jesus encourages us to pray, and to not give up. He encourages us to persevere.  

When I read some university research on conscientiousness, I noted the following observations:

  • Childhood conscientiousness is relevant to executive functioning i.e. improved impulse control, planfulness (planning), drive (motivation) and ambition.
  • Conscientiousness and career success each predicted a lower risk of death (mortality risk). Longevity is often used by researchers as the single best measure of health.
  • People who are conscientious are more successful in their work.
  • Statistically, they live longer than people who are not conscientious. 
  • It seems they care about the things that need to be right, including themselves.
  • Family background, parental marriage stability, personality (including drive to succeed) and marriage are all factors that significantly contribute to success at work and longevity.
  • Careers are relevant to long-term health outcomes.

(Ref: ‘Conscientiousness, Career Success, and Longevity: A Lifespan Analysis’, by Kern, M. PhD, Friedman, H. PhD, Martin, L. PhD, Reynolds, C. PhD, and Luong, G.)

When we encourage our young people to be passionate and persistent in their approach to life, we are gifting them with the increased likelihood of career success, and a longer life.  

The persistent widow is an example of true grittiness in very difficult personal circumstances. She was arguably conscientious. She cared about achieving a better outcome in her life, and she persisted to make it happen.

Des Mitchell