Grit, Complacency, and Passion

Last summer, I published a series of professional book reviews. The titles were some of the books I read as I prepared my forthcoming book. At that time, my LM_NET colleague and friend Barb Langridge, who blogs at A Book and a Hug and recommends children’s books as a regular guest on WBALTV Channel 11 in Baltimore, sent me an email asking if I had read Tyler Cowen’s book The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. I had not but said I would do so. Cowen’s book made be think. It also invited me to reflect on two previous books I read. (So, finally, this post is for you, Barb.)

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth makes a compelling case for people to follow their passion and learn perseverance. (I referenced her work in my 2018 New Year’s Resolution post.) She defines “grit” as self-discipline wedded to dedicated pursuit of a goal. In her study, Dr. Duckworth learned that highly successful people “were unusually resilient and hardworking” and they had determination and direction (Duckworth 2016, 8). If you haven’t yet take her online test, you can access her “grit scale” on her Web site.

One of her findings that was particularly meaningful to me is this. “Grittier people are dramatically more motivated than others to seek a meaningful, other-centered life. Higher scores on purpose correlate with higher scores on the Grit Scale” (Duckworth 2016, 147). People, such as school librarians, who have a moral purpose to serve others can be some of the grittiest people in terms of persevering to follow their passion. For me, this portends success for our profession.

School librarianship is complex. The exemplary practice of effective school librarians requires a wide range of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and dispositions, such those in this word cloud:

Duckworth elaborated on the Finnish concept of “sisu spirit.” Having this disposition means you understand your setbacks are temporary learning opportunities. You will tackle your challenges again no matter what. Setbacks won’t hold you back. “Grit is who you are!” (Duckworth 2016, 252). Just as the Finns do, Duckworth says we must model for and teach young people how to approach life with a “sisu spirit.”

Tyler Cowen in The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream presents readers with a U.S. culture very much in need of “sisu spirit.” Cowen’s thesis is that Americans have lost “the ability to imagine an entirely different world and physical setting altogether, and the broader opportunities for social and economic advancement that would entail” (Cowen 2017, 7). He writes that the main elements of our society are driving us toward a more static, less risk-taking America.

In terms of our young people, Cowen notes (most?) schools occupy them with safest possible activities, most of all homework. We also classify students more thoroughly through more and more testing (Cowen 2017, 19). Low-level, low-risk “activities” in K-12 schools result in students who are averse to risk-taking and unable to problem solve. They will lack the social emotional learning necessary for an entrepreneurial spirit, for a “sisu spirit.”

I believe that Duckworth’s “grit” is the answer to Cowen’s complacency prediction. Inquiry learning (see 2/22/18 post) and activism are also pieces of the puzzle.

Serving as a school librarian is not for the faint of heart. For many school librarians, their work involves bumping up against a system that may not be serving students, educators, and families well. It means influencing others through leadership—an effort that takes passion, purpose, risk-taking, and perseverance. We must have the necessary dispositions to succeed, and we must model these and co-create with classroom teachers opportunities for students to practice them.

As a current example, Carolyn Foote, district librarian for Eanes (Texas) Independent School District and Lilead Fellow, created a Resources for Planning a Peaceful March Padlet to support youth and educators who are organizing protests related to gun violence. She invited Future Ready Librarians to add resources and share this information in their learning communities.

The fact that young people across the U.S. are speaking up and out is sending a strong message to our representatives in Congress. These young people are displaying grit and passion. They are anything but complacent. It is our responsibility as educators and elders to support them and join with them in raising our voices and creating positive change.

As Randy Kosimar writes: “Following your passion is not the same as following your bliss. While passion is a font of expressive, creative energy, it won’t necessarily deliver pleasure and contentment at every moment. Success, even on your own terms, entails sacrifice and periods of very hard work” (2000, xiv).

Let’s get to work!

Works Cited

Cowen, Tyler. 2017. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Duckworth, Angela. 2016. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.

Kosimar, Randy. 2000. The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Crafting a Life While Making a Living. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Image Credits: Collage created at, Word Cloud created at