Grit and Wits

In Donesa Walker by Lola Magazine

What’s the difference in a Formula One car and a regular sportscar? SPEED is the obvious answer, but there are other differences as well. The sportscar can operate in this “normal” world, while the Formula One car requires a certain pavement type because of its tires. It requires a special gas and a special treatment. It has a different measure of endurance and a different measure of expectancy. While it is fun to watch and fun to drive, it doesn’t have the same function as a regular sportscar. Surprised that we are discussing sportscars? It’s a parable. An illustration. Everyone is not designed to be a Formula One car with all of the special bells and whistles. Changes have to be made to those cars to make them street legal and able to function on our roads. So, what if we compare the Formula One car to the brilliant children/students we have who are having a hard time in the “normal” environment of life as we know it? School is a challenge and shouldn’t be with their IQ or social situations are a disaster and shouldn’t be with their EQ (that’s emotional intelligence for those that haven’t heard of it). How do kids nowadays function in this fast-paced world whether they are a regular sportscar, a souped up version, or a Formula One racing car?

Recently, a great TED Talk video surfaced all over social media from a former educator turned University of Pennsylvania psychologist. Angela Duckworth presented her research that the best indicator is not just IQ but rather a special blend of persistence and passion she calls “GRIT.” This research is not new, University of Connecticut psychologist Joseph Renzuli, who is the Director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, conducted a very famous study and concluded that “task commitment” together with ability and creativity was an essential component of giftedness. Duckworth even has a survey you can take to determine your GRIT as www.sasupenn.qualtrics.com (a score of 7 is perfect and if you get that, well, it will say that your score cannot be determined as they have not enough data with that score level – ask me how I know?). My son, who is in 3rd year of college at 18 and has a very high IQ, scored a 3.33 and was grittier than 70% of the population. So, what does this mean? Not a brag but rather an interesting look as what makes a person successful and how do we groom this “GRIT” or “task commitment” in our children and in ourselves, no matter what skills sets are today.

First of all, I think we can all agree that today we are more self-aware in our society than ever before. After all, this is the age of social media and posting everything you do from every dirty diaper changed to the foods we eat and the places we go. We are told to support this and abstain from this by every media outlet in the world both fake and real. If we don’t post it, our families or friends will, so might as well beat them to the punch. In this world of fanfare, how do we raise successful, productive children who have a good view of themselves especially if they have a learning difference or are gifted? The truth is that we must give our kids both opportunity for success and opportunity for failure. That’s right. It’s not a typo. Our kids must learn that not everything turns out the first time we touch it and that sometimes being the smartest doesn’t mean being the best. Smart is something I spend a lot of time doing as I am a brain trainer/teacher by trade. I often have friends who say “you are the smartest person that I know” and while I really do appreciate that they think this, I want to say “Am I the happiest?” The answer to that is that I am extremely happy but my IQ didn’t bring me that (not bragging about IQ as I really am not the smartest person I know for sure). Happiness to me is more than success, more than IQ and more than any other measure out there…happiness is knowing who you are and being content with that which includes constantly working to better yourself while enjoying the journey. Happiness is a mindset.

I agree somewhat with Mark Erlandson, who is the parent of a gifted student and a successful person in his own right, when he writes in his article “Is Grit More Important than Intelligence?: How to Make Sure our Children Have Both,” that developing character in a child is the most important thing that leads to success. He quotes Paul Tough from “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” saying that failure from overcoming adversity is what produces character and that is ultimately what leads to true long-term success. Character comes from the small things such as training a child to send thank you notes for receiving gifts at special occasions beginning with that very first birthday present! Character comes from sitting on the bench watching everyone else play when you didn’t get to practice on time. Character comes from experiencing the highs/lows of personal triumphs and failures whether in sports, academics, extra-curricular or relationships. I know that when a child struggles, it is important to get them the help they need whether that is brain training at LearningRx, a personal fitness instructor, a personal sports coach or trainer or even a counselor. I know that just being there as a parent even when you are clueless on how to help them with their current attitude or mindset except through prayer and constant nagging is important. If we shield our kids from the hard things in life, we do them a true disservice. Allow them to experience them both in the good and the bad. Quit allowing the blaming of the society and people groups around you and get out to experience the world. Mindset, according to Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor, can change things drastically. In her study, students that knew or were told that intelligence is malleable and trainable earned better grades during the next two years than those that thought IQ was fixed no matter how high their IQ was! (She has a survey too that you can take at www.mindsetonline.com ).

Finally, balance. Wow, this is more important than most realize. I recently was listening to a mom sharing her daughter’s schedule and I thought, I wonder when the child just breathes? Remember that balance so you can just breathe is so important. Everything being done doesn’t make a perfect life. I remember my super-mom days when I tried to juggle school, work, church, extra-curricular and being a wife and mom, and I felt tired and defeated even on a “successful” day. Then I discovered “balance” instead of “juggling.” Juggling meant that I always had the feeling that something was slipping and that I was failing at being the perfect mom… I was trying to be the Formula One car in the “normal” world and the race was kicking my behind. Balance meant I learned to change tires figuratively, although I really can do it literally, too! I learned that I have to let some things go and not stress about it. Our children really need this lesson in this highly competitive world of trying to out creative the next person with our HOCO invites. Balance means training our kids that sometimes it’s okay to say “I just can’t right now,” which doesn’t mean that I won’t try. It’s okay to give up an activity causing an undue burden unless it is building character or affecting a better outcome for the child long-term. It is OK even if you are the lead dancer to put dance on hold this year to get academic help. It is OK if you have a 168 IQ to struggle with math problems… you just need to get the right help to train you in math. It is OK to make changes to your life… in fact, you will likely be all the better for it. Remember Life is a journey and sometimes that journey is the minivan loaded with screaming kids because it is naptime and sometimes that journey is the award-winning race in the Formula One car…. The trick is to enjoy the trip and to stay in the moments of the journey!