Angela Duckworth discusses family, circumstance and choice

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Angela Duckworth spoke to BYU on Feb. 28. Duckworth spoke about lessons she has learned from the life experiences of her mother. (BYU Photo)

Angela Duckworth spoke to the BYU campus community on Feb. 28 about lessons she has learned from the life experiences of her mother.

Duckworth, a New York Times bestselling author, University of Pennsylvania professor and 2013 MacArthur Fellow, has spoken and written widely about grit and has spent 20 years researching the topic.

She acknowledged that her chosen topic for her BYU address was unique. “I wonder if I could extend the topic to one, honestly, a little outside of my comfort zone,” she said. “What I’m going to talk about today, I haven’t talked about with anyone.”

Duckworth said she has learned two specific lessons from the events of her mother’s life.

“First, your situation is as powerful as gravity. Second, you can reimagine and reshape your situation,” she said.

Duckworth said it is easy to underestimate the powerful influence of circumstance when observing others’ choices. 

She also said while it is necessary to consider possible obstacles to success, one cannot overlook opportunities to choose and change, Duckworth said.

“Research shows that without question, focusing your attention on what you can change is a tremendously positive asset,” she said. “People with this positive attitude are more likely to seize opportunities, to persevere and to accomplish their goals.”

Duckworth concluded that consideration of both the changeable and the unchangeable in life is important.

“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,” she said.

Duckworth invited students to reflect on one significant circumstance that they have each chosen: coming to BYU.

“BYU is different from every other university because of its unique mission and the people who feel called to serve it. You chose these circumstances, and these circumstances are now shaping you,” she said.

She continued by encouraging students to create good circumstances via their choice of friends, coworkers and spouse. She acknowledged the positive influence that her husband of almost 25 years has had in her life.

Duckworth concluded by sharing the Serenity Prayer: “‘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.’”

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