Taking a course with a world-famous psychologist feels intimidating until you actually start learning from them. When I originally heard about Dr. Angela Duckworth’s inaugural version of GRIT Lab, I was intrigued. The syllabus claimed that this class would teach you about the basics of grit and teach you how to apply it to your own life, and in turn, maybe some certainty about what you want to do with your life after college. I wanted to learn more about what makes people successful and content in their jobs. As a sophomore on the verge of declaring my major, it felt like a good fit.
I applied and miraculously got in through a completely random lottery system. The course had generated a lot of buzzes before course selection had even opened up, demonstrating how badly college students want assurance and certainty about their lives before they even happen. I felt lucky, but a little bit uncomfortable—what was I going to do with this exclusive opportunity to learn from the best of the best about grit and positive psychology as a student not majoring in psychology?
As I felt with most new things, I walked in with intimidation. I didn’t know what to expect from this class, or the larger program it was housed in, the brand new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program. We were quickly assigned seats (which, even for a grown woman, felt oddly relieving!), given notebooks, stickers, pins, and a copy of Dr. Duckworth’s influential book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, which would serve as our textbook. The format would be simple: weekly meetings consisting of three hours, which would be broken up into sections and peppered with breaks (even as a person who is no longer considered a child, I can’t bring myself to sit down for 3 hours straight!).
The first section would consist of a lecture from Dr. Duckworth, followed by a discussion with a new person each week. We were told that each week, in order to facilitate conversations, we must sit next to a different person each week. The discussion would sometimes be facilitated by our teaching assistant—mine was a former NFL player turned Ph.D. student (nuts, I know!). The last section would consist of a Q&A with a Penn alum who Dr. Duckworth felt embodied principles of grit, alums like Kathryn Minshew(CEO of the Muse), Sophie Beren(founder of the conversationalist), Brett Perlmutter(founder and CEO of Google Cuba), andKayvonAsemani, (Product Manager at Facebook).
I won’t spoil the class for you in the case that you come to Penn and decide to take this class yourself, but even though it got interrupted by the COVID–19 pandemic and had to transition to the virtual space, the wisdom still wasn’t lost. I found myself more motivated than ever to identify my passions, work hard to follow through on goals derived from my passions, and ask for lots of advice along the way.