Angela Duckworth Grit The Power
Growing up, I heard the word genius a lot.
It was always my dad who brought it up. He liked to say, apropos of nothing at all, “You know, you’re no genius!” This pronouncement might come in the middle of dinner, during a commercial break for The Love Boat, or after he flopped down on the couch with the Wall Street Journal. I don’t remember how I responded. Maybe I pretended not to hear. My dad’s thoughts turned frequently to genius, talent, and who had more than whom. He was deeply concerned with how smart he was. He was deeply concerned with how smart his family was. I wasn’t the only problem. My dad didn’t think my brother and sister were geniuses, either. By his yardstick, none of us measured up to Einstein. Apparently, this was a great disappointment. Dad worried that this intellectual handicap would limit what we’d eventually achieve in life. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, sometimes called the “genius grant.” You don’t apply for the MacArthur. You don’t ask your friends or colleagues to nominate you.
Instead, a secret committee that includes the top people in your field decides you’re doing important and creative work.
When I received the unexpected call telling me the news, my first reaction was one of gratitude and amazement. Then my thoughts turned to my dad and his offhand diagnoses of my intellectual potential. He wasn’t wrong; I didn’t win the MacArthur because I’m leagues smarter than my fellow psychologists. Instead, he had the right answer (“No, she’s not”) to the wrong question (“Is she a genius?”).
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