Why We Do Better


A friend recently discovered the pleasure of giving up:

“I have stopped forcing myself to finish books. As a result, I read (and complete) at least 3 times more books these days.”

There is a crusade in contemporary psychology, one that asserts that what we lack is grit: passion and perseverance in the face of adversity.

For many people, the reality is the probably the opposite: we stick too long with things that don’t interest us. Grit is a modern framing of a strain of thinking that has appeared around the world for centuries; fifty years ago we might have called it a “Protestant work ethic.” The mandate: hard work doesn’t just grant salvation, it is salvation.

We misinterpret “Some important tasks are also difficult” as “This is important, so it must also be difficult.”

Or worse, “Because this is difficult, it must also be important.”

And so, we persevere pointlessly, wearing our exhaustion as a badge of honor.

Instead of forging grit, we might instead follow curiosity. Curiosity is the ever-downstream current. Like water down the river, curiosity does not compel us to push through obstacles, but around them. When the path stalls, we spill to new paths. So long as we are curious, the barriers we encounter create energy, rather than deplete it.

Hop from book to book. End meetings when you are no longer interested. Change your major in your senior year. Get to the party when you are ready, and leave when you are tired. The cranks will grumble behind your back – how irresponsible! How unreliable!

Yes, spill downhill; it is not grit that took us to space, but curiosity.