Angela Duckworth is one of the most popular behavioral scientists of the United States. Her first book, “Grit,” became a worldwide best-seller. Her TED Talk on this topic has been viewed by over a million people. Through her academic research, she has been trying to understand the role of passion and perseverance in shaping in shaping a successful and more satisfying career.

At a recent event in Brazil, organised by Fundação Estudar, Angela was asked about how to remain gritty. She gave an inspiring and yet practical answer: the first step towards recovering energy, passion and grit is to acknowledge the burnout and the tiredness are a psychologic reality. “You are not making things up, it is real”. Only by doing so we would be able to act upon it.

Listen to the full interview (in English, with Portuguese introductions).


Her full response:

In the United States, the expression is burnout, right? Once a very successful female surgeon asked me this over dinner. She said – “you know, I was really gritty and now I feel like I’m burnt out. I feel just not excited about my work, tired, I don’t have the resilience and the stamina that I used to. What is going on? Is it possible to lose your grit?”

I think this experience, feeling burnt out, is a real one – it’s not a made-up imagined thing. I mean, if you feel burnt out then it is true. You are experiencing something which has a psychological reality, at a minimum. So why does it happen and what can you do about it? I think that when we understand our reality, as we put more and more energy and are not getting anywhere, that creates the feeling of burnout. You put more and more energy, and hours, and effort, and dedication, it and it’s kind of going down a hole and nothing is coming out. I think this position [she] was experiencing in her own job was maybe because the healthcare industry was being restructured and a lot of her effort was actually not making a difference in the lives of her patients. She was feeling less and less fulfilled.

Why do I feel this way? Where is it that I am investing more and more energy and yet nothing is coming out?

So, if you are experiencing burnout, I think the first thing to understand is that it is a psychological reality – you are not making things up, it’s true. The second is to ask why do I feel this way? Where am I investing more and more energy and yet nothing is coming out? There’s no return, there is no payoff. And then the third and final question is – given that the burnout is real and given that it is coming for this reason – what can I do to correct or to change the situation?

In this example, it might mean changing to a different hospital, that has a different kind of culture and system. Sometimes it means people need to make a change that’s more internal – like, you know, finding ways to pay attention to the areas of work that are more rewarding. But I do think that it is rational response to the understanding that your efforts are not being rewarded and I think that this understanding can help you identify ways to to make an improvement.