By: Marianna Lamnina
Where Are You Going?
My answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” changed a ton over the years. But one thing was always true: I loved school and I was fascinated by learning and how other people learn. In Kindergarten, I decided I wanted to become a teacher. In 3rd grade, I decided I want to go to graduate school — because that’s when I learned graduate school was a thing and the idea of more school after college seemed like a dream come true. In 9th grade, influenced by Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man” I changed my mind about being a teacher and decided to become a professor instead. In 11th grade, after taking an Introduction to Psychology class at the local college, I was convinced that a future in psychology was for me… based on not much more than the fact that I liked that one class. Now, here I am, finishing my second year of a Ph.D. program in educational psychology, learning all about learning. Honestly? It’s far different from what I imagined. However, my thirst for learning and my fascination with learning theories hasn’t changed.
Are You Sure You’re Sure?
While in graduate school, I’ve noticed that “What do I want to be when I grow up?” has shifted slightly to become “Am I sure that’s what I want to be when I grow up?”, a question that comes with a lot of second-guessing.
Within the past decade, researchers and educators in my field have spent a lot of resources researching and talking about the concept of “grit,” which is, in the words of incredible psychology researcher and speaker Dr. Angela Duckworth, “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in and day-out—not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years— and working really hard to make that future a reality.”
I attend as many of Dr. Duckworth’s talks as I can, and at one of these talks I heard her say how she works with a lot of 20-something-year-old students who tend to waver and constantly doubt themselves. They wonder if they’re in the right place, doing the right thing, working in the right lab, and are in the right graduate program. She explained how she’s annoyed by these people and their lack of grit. Truly gritty people, she says, don’t question things quite as much.
Initially, hearing her say this made me worry; as a graduate student, I feel like I do this constantly, too! Sometimes I think I could have a normal job or I could be done with work at 5 o’clock or I could have more time for friends and family… for eating… for sleeping…
The Gritty Truth
Yet, it’s impossible to be 100% certain of everything, all the time. In the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie remarks on how even presidents must make daily decisions without complete surety; “If you can be sure of being right only 55% of the time,” he adds, “you can go down to Wall Street and make a million dollars in a day.” Ultimately, the question, after all that questioning, is what do you do? Do you have values and convictions, and do you stick to them? Do you have a vision and do you follow it? Don’t lose yourself in a downward spiral of second-guessing, third-guessing, tenth-guessing. “It is in moments of decision that your destiny is shaped,” motivational coach Anthony Robbins says. “I challenge you to make your life a masterpiece. I challenge you to join the ranks of those people who live what they teach, who walk their talk.”
I seek to rise to this challenge every day.
So ultimately, I find that even when I do begin doubting my path, I’m still considering alternative ways that I could do research in education—even if I didn’t attend grad school, even if I didn’t earn my Ph.D., I find that my goal remains steadfast: I want to influence educational practice through research.
Gritty people are characterized by the fact that they know what they want and they chase it. They don’t need to stick to one way of doing things. They can question themselves, because questioning yourself is the first step to changing, to improving, to evolving. Gritty people know that there are many avenues to the same destination. And it’s okay to change your mind sometimes. If you’re questioning yourself, you dig into why you’re doing something. You seek information, you ask for feedback, and you talk to experts.
That’s what gritty people do.