I was reminded of a conversation I once had with a school administrator about the difficulty of hiring effective teachers. “[Something] I’ve realized about recruiting really smart people [is] they’ve never truly struggled with anything,” he told me. “They’re used to working hard, and getting fairly immediate results and teaching doesn’t work like that. So it’s breaking them down mentally.” (It was clear from the context that “really smart people” coming from underprivileged backgrounds did not come with the same drawbacks.)
Had I had more grit and more experience with failure, I would still have gotten knocked around hard at that school, but I would have learned more quickly from my mistakes and from those around me; I would have had more strength and less fear in the face of my failure; and I would have recovered more quickly.
Years ago, I was on a committee interviewing applicants for a journalism scholarship. One girl was an excellent student, a good reporter, a star athlete, good-looking and confident. She was perfect. One of my colleagues asked her to describe a time she’d tried something and failed. She couldn’t. It hadn’t happened. We gave her that first experience with failure by not giving her a scholarship. There were other excellent candidates with more grit.