Grit, Courage, and Messiness: Active Ingredients for Strong Finishers

The school year is coming to an end, and that means some students will be advancing to another grade, others will be going into college, and others will be graduating into the workforce. Whether you are a student, educator, or parent, there is one word that can help you and yours make a successful transition into the summer and the new year: grit.

Grit is the follow-through we all need to succeed. Professionals need grit to get through a busy week at the office, take classes on the side to improve their skills, network with those who can help them, volunteer for worthy  causes, look for a new job, and find balance in life.  Students need it to find the intrinsic motivation to keep studying, deal with friends, stand up to bullies, keep going in the face of disappointments, defy the odds, and follow their dreams.

Kim Gilmer, Esq., recalls her days of training for a triathlon in her article “Getting Grit.” She invested hours into running, cycling, and swimming to fulfill her goal of completing a triahlon, and in the end, she had many bumps and bruises, but her biggest transformation came from pushing her boundaries, both physically and mentally.

In Kim’s triathlon example, her journey of getting to the finish line implies great metaphoric significance for achieving other dreams in her life. However, grit is also a practical skill that can change academic, personal, and professional lives. Richard Rusczyk is a former Math Olympiad winner who believes he knows why a staggering amount of students who enter college with the intention of pursuing a STEM career change their major, according to the article “Does Our Approach to Teaching Math Fail Even the Smartest Kids?

Rusczyk went to an average public school that didn’t offer many advanced math classes, which lead him to joining math clubs and competitions in K-12 to challenge him. When he arrived at Princeton, he was surprised to see his peers — some of which attended prestigious high schools — struggle and give up in their math classes. In fact, according to the article, what he witnessed wasn’t rare. STEM attrition rates are higher in selective schools compared to public schools.

Where is the disconnect? Rusczyk says: “They were taught [math] is a set of facts, not a process.” When his classmates didn’t get 100 percent on a test, they thought they had failed and moved onto another major, whereas Rusczyk was familiar with the unpredictable nature of math from his competitions. “…Math required more than rote learning — it required creativity, grit, and strenuous mental gymnastics.”

As you enter the summer, ask yourself how you can live with more grit. How could grit help you train for a summer  race, teach a non-native speaker English, finish the last few weeks of school strong, or be more focused at work? How is messiness related to grit?  How willing are you to live in the mess that it takes to create and see things through to a fulfilling conclusion?  How willing are you to dig deeply and earnestly to challenge yourself in order to discover your own “true” grit?



“Getting Grit,” by Kim Gilmer. 17 April 2012. LifeBound. Accessed on 17 April 2012.

“Does Our Approach to Teaching Math Fail Even the Smartest Kids?” Great Schools. Accessed on 17 April 2012.

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