At the beginning of the forum, Duckworth said that grit, or resilience and determination in one’s goals, has been found to be a “common denominator of world class achievers.”
“In many ways, my research affirms what former BYU president Jeffery R. Holland, said 40 years ago – 40 years ago almost to the day – in his Tuesday devotional, entitled, ‘However Long and Hard the Road.’ President Holland said, ‘[N]othing very valuable can come without significant sacrifice and effort and patience on our part.’”
She offered other praise to the school and its students, saying, “I am not LDS, but I do believe this is a very special university. Some of my very favorite people in the world have been students here at BYU and I thought maybe I could try to do something special for you.”
Duckworth usually addresses the topic of grit as a psychological phenomenon, but instead she connected this to her mother’s personal story. She said, “What I’m going to talk about today, I haven’t talked about with anyone.”
Duckworth’s mother, Teresa, and her family, during the 1900s, fled China during the communist revolution to Taiwan and then to the US. Her mother was able to then go to university and gain more education in her passion to become an artist.
After all that time and energy, Teresa, instead of pursuing her dream of being an artist, met Duckworth’s father. Duckworth commented, “[M]y mom met my dad, and pretty much that derailed all her plans.”
Instead of painting and fulfilling that dream Teresa had, the family set up a needlepoint paint business and it ran for years to support their children and Teresa’s family back in Taiwan. Duckworth said her mother wrote her saying, “I painted very little. Somehow I became a small business owner.”
“The business was reasonably successful, but I didn’t feel like I was doing the right thing,” her mother wrote. “For years, I asked my husband for one gift at Christmas, and that was to sell the business.”
Eventually, the business was sold and Duckworth’s parents grew older. Her mother was quoted by Duckworth as saying, “[H]e allowed, and that’s the best way I could put it, he allowed me to sell the business.”
Duckworth’s parents eventually moved into a care center and Teresa asked a worker for a separate room to paint in where she could have “natural light” and “where she wouldn’t be interrupted.”
“After surviving… two wars, hardship leaving her parents and her brothers and sister an ocean away, and making so many sacrifices to become an artist… my 87 year old mother got a room of her own,” Duckworth said. Alongside this, she took care of her husband, who even needed Teresa’s assistance in brushing his teeth, until he passed.
In doing so, she fulfilled a dream which had been laid aside while sacrificing for her family. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to choose between your dreams or your spouse’s because true partners support each other,” Duckworth said. “[W]ithout my husband, Jason, I wouldn’t be here today on this stage with you in conversation.”
Duckworth admonished students to choose their friends and spouses wisely because of the impact they have on your life and to put family first.
“What’s the moral of my mom’s story?… First, your situation is as powerful as gravity. Second, you can reimagine and reshape your situation,” Duckworth continued.
Concluding, Duckworth said, “[A]s impossible as it seems, I believe these two morals can be reconciled. I’m a scientist who studies success, and I have come to believe that the only way to live a full and happy life is to hold these two seemingly contradictory truths in your mind at once.”
Duckworth explained, “The belief that you can influence your circumstances, and this research shows that without question, focusing your attention on what you can change is a tremendously positive asset. In fact, believing that you can influence at least some of your circumstances is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Duckworth ended with the Serenity Prayer, saying, “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
Written by: Thomas Stevenson
Senior Contributor at The Cougar Chronicle
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints