Never a failure, always a lesson —Rihanna

Just because some people can do something without training doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. —Carol Dweck

I remember the day my kiddo, Kai, took their first steps (they use gender-neutral they/them pronouns).

They’d started crawling at nine months old, right on time. But as they got to fifteen months, sixteen months, seventeen months, I began to worry that they were having a hard time learning to walk. I took them to an occupational therapist, and after looking them over, she diagnosed them with “low-dense connective tissue.” In other words, Kai had floppy ankles. So we bought them those little white baby shoes and started inventing games to inspire them to walk.

One day, my mother and I sat facing each other on the kitchen floor. I held a banana in my hands. Kai wanted that banana, and I lovingly told them that they’d have to walk to get it. They stood up, and we coaxed them forward.

They walked!

Their face beamed as they took in our applause. Then, my mother took the banana and told them that they’d have to walk to her to get it. They did! They walked back and forth until they gobbled down the whole thing.

It took Kai longer than most other babies to walk. But as I write this, Kai is an active eleven-year-old who loves to run and swim and ride a bike.

Can you imagine what might have happened if Kai had told themself there was something wrong with them and just given up their efforts to walk?

They might still be crawling.

When we were little, we were used to falling down. It took us time to learn how to read or tie our shoelaces or ride a bike without training wheels. But as adults, many of us get stuck believing that if we can’t do things right the first time, we’re inherently bad at whatever we’re trying and might as well give up.

Introducing the Growth Mindset—

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, is famous for her work demonstrating the benefits of a growth mindset— the understanding that with enough desire, effort, time, and resources, anyone can learn anything.

A growth mindset looks like—

  • Getting excited about new challenges.
  • Plunging into a project wholeheartedly and sticking to the challenge, even when you’re not good at it yet.
  • Caring more about giving it your best effort than whether you win or lose.
  • And, even when you’re disappointed or embarrassed, knowing deep down that your mistakes and failures signify learning and growth.

In the past several decades, there’s been lots of research into what makes people successful. The results of this research consistently show that although we’re born with different temperaments and aptitudes, in the end, success usually results from effort and perseverance, as well as resources and support. People with growth mindsets are more likely to persevere and work hard to cultivate excellence, ultimately becoming masters in their fields.

As an eminent educational researcher, Benjamin Bloom writes—

After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions for learning.

In contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that talent is innate and you’re born with a certain amount.

Here are some signs that someone has a strong fixed mindset—

  • Even though they’ve been told that failure is inevitable and an opportunity for growth, deep down, the idea of trying and failing feels terrifying.
  • It feels easier to dream about what they could become than to give it their best effort and fail.
  • They believe that if they had genuine talent, accomplishment would feel effortless.
  • If they try and things don’t turn out the way they hoped, they think it means that they are inherently bad at the task.
  • If they take a risk and succeed, they think, “Maybe I’m okay after all.”
  • If things don’t work out the way they’d hoped, the Judge says, “You’re not good enough after all. You’re such a screw-up.”

People with a strong fixed mindset are more likely to avoid challenges, give up faster, and procrastinate about complex tasks. Having a fixed mindset is one of the biggest reasons why callings go unanswered and people stay stuck in jobs they hate.

A master loves to learn and has great patience.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to become a master in any field. That’s a long time.

So, yes, it might take you a long time, even longer than some other people, to learn a new skill. But true masters devote themselves to their callings not only because they want to succeed but because they love to learn.

Ask, “What might I need to learn?”

When you were born, you were innately curious, and there is still a part of you who is compelled to learn.

From now on, whenever you face a challenge and find yourself saying, “I can’t do this!” first recognize that you’re under the illusion of a fixed mindset.

Then, try on a new story. Choose something like— “It’s not that I can’t. It’s that I don’t know how to… yet. But I want to learn this. And, with enough practice and support, I can. What might I need to learn?

What do you want to learn?

I invite you to pause and reflect for five minutes (yes, right now!) on what you are excited to learn in the next phase of your career.

For five minutes, write down what comes up in response to the following questions without censoring yourself, keeping your pen to the paper—

  • What new strengths are you excited to develop?
  • What new experience are you excited to gain?
  • What are you excited to become known as an expert in?
  • What projects or careers might allow you to develop these new gifts?

What came up for you in response to these questions?

I’d love to hear from you!

Please share your thoughts below, and I will make sure to respond. Thanks!

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