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Understanding Your Mindset

Something that’s been top of mind for me lately is a growth mindset. When I encountered the term and began reading about it, my first instinct was ‘Of course, I’m all growth mindset!’. I looked at my chosen career and its path and felt like every cell in my body HAD to be blessed with a growth mindset. Ooof, how wrong was that?

Growth mindset may be a new term, so let’s set a baseline definition. Growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. People with a growth mindset believe that they can learn and improve, even if they are not naturally talented at something. They are also more likely to take on challenges and persist in facing setbacks. In her 2007 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck made the growth mindset concept popular. The opposite end of the spectrum is that of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset assumes that intelligence and skills are relatively set. People with a fixed mindset strongly believe that ‘you either have what it takes to succeed or don’t.’ They view competence as an innate quality they're born with and can't develop further.

When one reflects on their mindset to identify whether it's more growth or fixed, applying a one size fits all approach is very easy. That one is all growth or all fixed. Humans also have a remarkable ability to overestimate themselves, so if a growth mindset is a virtue, then we must possess it. The truth is that we can be all over the map in terms of mindset. We might have a growth mindset in some areas and others we may not. No one is 100% growth or 100% fixed in everything they do.

As I continued to develop my understanding of growth mindset and reflected on my experiences, I realized there was a domain in which I’ve generally had a fixed mindset. If you’ve met me in person over the past 10 years, you’ve probably noticed that I appear to have a stiff neck or back. I have a medical condition that has caused all my vertebrae to grow together, significantly limiting the range of motion in my spine. When I was younger, this condition caused significant pain in the form of juvenile arthritis. I’m not sharing this for sympathy but to set the stage for why I’ve generally had a fixed mindset regarding my physical ability.

In my late 20s, when my spine began fusing, I went out for a run one day and couldn’t make it more than two blocks before I was ultimately out of breath. At that point, I gave up and accepted that I would never be able to run again, solidifying my fixed mindset. Some years later, I was leading an LGBTQ affinity group and thought it’d be an great experience for us all to participate in the AIDS Run/Walk of Chicago, and I got this crazy idea that maybe I would run it. For some, running a 5k is just getting warmed up in the morning, but for me, it was a crazy feat. When I decided to do it, I began a daily training regimen and ran the entire 5k that year.

I usually tell this story whenever I talk about growth vs. fixed mindset. It’s a prime example of when I shifted from a fixed to growth mindset. But I also share the story to encourage others to think about where they might have a fixed mindset and how they might shift it into one of growth.

Why is growth mindset top of mind for you right now?

This year I decided to bet on myself. For the past 4-5 years, I’ve been ramping into joining the ranks of the self-employed. I knew it would be a challenging transition, yet it's hard to anticipate how it will all play out. Issues of self-confidence and fear are magnified during this transition and it’s important for me to keep grounded in the power of yet. It’s a roller coaster, and I must reassure myself that there’s a lot I have to learn on this journey. Here’s a few things that I’m focusing on as I navigate that you might also find helpful in developing your growth mindset.

1. Challenge yourself. Step outside your comfort zone and try new things to help you grow. Last fall, I wrote about this topic, perhaps as a subconscious preamble to what I would jump into. Experimentation is key for me as I try new ways to succeed in this venture.

2. Focus on effort and improvement. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of learning. Instead, focus on how you can improve. Experimentation will lead to failure, and that’s okay.

3. Be open to feedback. Feedback can help you to learn and grow. Be open to hearing what others say, even if it’s not always positive. Also, pay attention to what’s not said. As someone self-employed, there’s no longer anyone vested in my success other than myself. No one is obligated to provide me with feedback, making it much more important to seek out and listen between the lines.

4. Celebrate your successes. When you achieve a goal, take the time to celebrate your success. As a result, this will help you to stay motivated and keep moving forward. This one comes naturally to me. I’m always up for a celebration. My key will be to pay attention to the small wins and celebrate them. They’re all smaller steps closer to my bigger goals.

People with a growth mindset are more likely to achieve their goals, be more resilient in the face of challenges, and overall be more successful. I encourage you to reflect and challenge yourself when you exhibit a fixed mindset and think about how to shift into one of growth. I reflect on it a lot and need to double down on it in what seems to be a time of transition for many.


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