During the three years I have spent on the Master of Wine programme I have (mostly unintentionally) focused on the theory element of the exam. With hindsight, it is clear to me that I did this because it was more comfortable. Essay writing is familiar territory to me. No matter how much new material I needed to learn, I know how to write a good essay. I have spent years doing it.
Now, with the theory papers behind me, I feel strangely rudderless. The tasting exams were a wholly new discipline to me on joining the MW programme, and I am much less comfortable with them. During the past three years, I was able to intersperse difficult learning with frequent mistakes – even failures – with what I found to be calming, reassuring essay-writing. Now, having passed theory, I have only the things that I find most difficult to work on.
Musing on this brought to mind a book I read several years ago called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Grit describes in detail the routes to success of many figures at the very top of their respective fields – those as broad as cadets at West Point, Olympic Swimmers, Spelling Bee champions, and even Warren Buffet! Duckworth’s research – for which she won the McArthur Genius Grant – posits that the most influential factor in success is not talent but grit. The willingness to keep working at something despite failing often, and a single-minded focus on your goal.
Grit is what I need to cultivate over the next six months. I find the practical exams extremely difficult, and I do not (yet) experience the same feelings of effortless flow as when I really get into writing an essay. I feel a little lost without my favourite, familiar, mode of study to anchor me. However, I have my first mock tasting exam under my belt (which wasn’t quite a disaster) and another one scheduled tomorrow. I might even give Grit a reread.