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Watch Your Words

Why it’s important to say what you think

Because I study effort and achievement, people often assume that all I care about is effort and achievement.

That’s understandable—but incorrect.

When I think of my own two teenage girls and how they show up in the world, I do not think first and foremost of their resumes. I do not go to bed praying that they graduate summa cum laude. And if a fairy godmother granted me one wish, it would not be for Amanda and Lucy to be successful.

Do I care about effort and achievement?

Yes, I do.

Do I hope that my girls learn to work hard and smart, and to accomplish something of importance?

Yes, I do.

Philosophers have long debated what it means to live a good life. More recently, scientists have come to the consensus that thriving is multi-dimensional. When it comes to overall life satisfaction, achievement is less important than relationships—having friends you love and who love you back—and day-to-day feelings of hope, gratitude, and moments of joy.

Research also shows that thriving relates differently to various character strengths. For instance, having positive relationships correlates more strongly with kindness than with perseverance.

And, finally, some aspects of character are, in my view, ends in themselves. Whether or not honesty and intellectual humility bring fame, fortune, or even happiness, they are fundamental to who we are and how we choose to show up in the world. Indeed, certain world leaders exemplify strengths of will like grit but, tragically, seem lacking in strengths of heart and mind.

There is an adage that you should watch your thoughts, for they become your words. A corollary is that people assume that what you don’t talk about, you don’t think about. More and more, I appreciate my responsibility to talk and write about more than grit. I need to make clear what I think matters.

What do your kids think matters to you?

Try comparing what you talk about most to what you care about most. Ask your kids, “If a fairy godmother granted me one wish, what do you think I’d ask for?” If you’re surprised by the gap between what they assume and what is true, consider making an adjustment.

With grit and gratitude,