The GenHERation “5 Questions With” Series features our exclusive interviews with the most powerful women in the world to provide you with actionable advice on how to navigate your career path.
Angela Duckworth is the New York Times Bestselling Author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and a researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
1) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you graduated from college?
I wish I knew that being imperfect was okay. I remember saying aloud, ‘I’m bad!’ when I fell short of my expectations. Now I know to say, ‘This thing I did was bad. Or at least not great. But that doesn’t make me a bad person. Just a person. People aren’t perfect.’
2) Which college class best prepared you for your professional career?
I took a class co-taught by Professor Kay Merseth, who is still teaching some version of it at Harvard, and my own daughter might take it this fall (fingers crossed for the lottery to go her way). In that class, I realized that K-12 education is foundational to equity and social good. I changed my career trajectory from medicine to education because of that class.
3) What is the go-to question you ask interview candidates?
Well, I don’t believe in magic interview questions. But I do believe that grit—the combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals that characterizes the high achievers I study—is evident in what a person has done before, how they’ve spent their time, and what they’ve accomplished. So I like to ask about all those things.
4) What is the biggest risk you have taken?
When I became a teacher, my dad was so mad that he stopped talking to me for six months. I guess that’s the biggest risk I ever took professionally.
5) What is your genius?
I don’t love the word “genius” because it suggests some superpower that you’re born with and, if you’re not, that you can’t develop. But I would say that a strength that has contributed to my success, other than my grit, is my affection for other people. I really like people, and I try to be generous, and then other people in turn seem to be very generous back. I have never regretted giving away anything, and in return, I’ve always been given a lot by others.