Is there a set of characteristics that string together those who excel in life?

My grandmother, like most Americans who were raised in the midst of the great depression and also faced world-war, would certainly say that hard work is part of it. Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin) dating back to the late 1800’s was also interested in this question — he posited that high achievement is based on three things: ability, zeal, and capacity for hard labor (and that talent was not enough).

The questions that underpin achievement led Dr. Angela Duckworth to deeply investigate the commonalities amongst those who have experienced varied degrees of success.

She, herself, is a living beacon for zeal. She’s playing the long game of mastery with a dedication toward doing the difficult and boring to understand the nuances of her passion. And by design, she’s developing insights into the characteristics of those who excel.

Dr. Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2013 MacArthur fellow. She is also the founder and scientific director of the Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development.

Angela Duckworth studies grit and self-control, two attributes that are distinct from IQ and yet powerfully predict success and well-being. Previously, Angela founded a summer school for low-income children that was profiled as a Harvard Kennedy School case study and, in 2012, celebrated its twentieth anniversary. She has also been a McKinsey management consultant and a math and science teacher. Angela completed her undergraduate degree in Advanced Studies Neurobiology at Harvard, an MSc in Neuroscience from Oxford University, and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Angela’s first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, debuted on May 3, 2016.

“A dogged tenacity and passion that’s enduring are signature to high achievers.”

In This Episode:

  • The value of process vs. outcome
  • How she first came to value grit
  • Her definition of grit
  • Impact of self-control on grit
  • The differences between achievement and mastery
  • Sunk-cost fallacy
  • Setting a goal at the right level
  • Is passion or perseverance harder?
  • The 3 kinds of character that are most important



Support Angela’s new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance


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Author |

Angela Duckworth is an American academic, psychologist and popular science author. She is Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies grit and self-control.