Growing Grit

Feb 27, 2023

Emma Showalter

I put my wooden #2 pencil down and flipped my hand over to see lead smeared from the end of my pinky finger to the start of my wrist. I was nine and had just finished taking the admittance test to get into the ALPHA program in 4th grade.   

ALPHA stands for “Actualized Learning Potential Through Heightened Awareness.” It serves as a program for “gifted and talented” students. All three of my older siblings had been in ALPHA. Being a part of the ALPHA program was challenging. The students that wished to run the gauntlet were taken into the principal’s office for the hours it took to take the test. I was with two other girls— none of us passed the exam to get into ALPHA.   

Failing the ALPHA test blew my self-esteem at nine years old. I had, and still to this day, prized myself on my academic ability. I loved my teachers and would regularly stay after school or offer to take home gallon Ziplock bags of pencils to sharpen with the fancy electric sharpener I had at home.   

Regardless of my enthusiasm, I failed to make it into the ALPHA program that year and for the next three years to follow. I stopped trying to get into the ALPHA program in 7th grade. I thought, “if I’m not gifted and talented, I must be average.” I placed a box around myself that I remained in until high school.   

However, looking back, despite not being “naturally gifted,” I realized that I had a modicum of grit. Angela Duckworth, the leading researcher on grit, proposed that grit is the “passion and perseverance for long-term goals” (Duckworth, 2016). The secret that explains why grit correlates with long-term success is that persistent effort counts twice, as seen in the following equations:  

talent × effort = skill  

skill × effort = achievement  

This persistent effort serves to build necessary skills, and it is further counted toward achievement. With that in mind, long-term effort dramatically influences how someone achieves their goals.   

How can grit be cultivated? One idea that Duckworth shared is to know your purpose. It starts with understanding how you intend to contribute to the well-being of others. It may help to ask yourself, what am I passionate about sharing with others?   

Despite failing to get into ALPHA, I remember one day asking myself, “was I only doing well academically so that I could get into the program?” The answer was, of course, no. That was when I realized I had misconstrued my passion. I was less interested in getting into ALPHA than in using education to help myself and others live more productive and happy lives. After that revelation, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and focused on my realized goal. This clarity of purpose has helped me persist despite setbacks and continue growing in my grit.  

The point is everyone has grit within them -- and it can grow. It begins with knowing and clarifying your purpose!   


Emma Showalter is a senior studying psychological sciences within the college of Health and Human Science. She is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Franki Kung’s Conflict and Mindset Collaboratory. Her research interests include industrial-organizational psychology with a focus on training & development, motivation, and productivity. After graduation, she will be working fulltime in Employee Experience at Lincoln Financial Group. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, as well as spending time with family and her cat, Soleil.



Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Scribner/Simon & Schuster. 


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