Do you ever feel trapped in your own life? I did.
Straight out of college, I landed what seemed to be an excellent job. The few of us who were hired were told, “We had hundreds of applicants. You are the cream of the crop.” I took pride in my work and was pretty good at it. It paid really well and was modestly rewarding. The people I worked with were some of the brightest people around. But I hated it. The first few (maybe 10 or so years) was tolerable because my pay climbed quickly and I was young and single.
Later, I got married and started a family, but by then, I was 15 years into my job. I couldn’t leave because the pay was too good and I wouldn’t have been able to match it if I left. I had a family and a beautiful house with a white picket fence (seriously, I did). In Hawaii, that house wasn’t cheap. I was trapped.
It was 22 years before I finally left my job. Last year, I landed a career and job that I love (with a matching salary!)
I attribute a lot of what got me the job to my new growth mindset, courtesy of Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of the book “Mindset”.
Was I able to land the new job solely by changing my mindset? Of course not. There were many factors; the perfect job had to be available, I had to actually get the job, and the pay had to match or be reasonably close to what I was already getting paid. But somehow it all fell into place.
So how did the learnings from the “Mindset” book help me professionally? After reading the book I did three things: (1) I realized that I wanted to do things differently, (2) I believed I could change things in my life by changing my mindset, and (3) I took action.
Here’s the deal: I actually interviewed for the same job (my new job) two years earlier. At that time, I was passed over. I was crushed. I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, articulate enough…I was a total failure.
After being rejected, I spent a few months being upset. I felt sorry for myself. It was around that time that I decided to read “Mindset”. I came across the book because I wanted to help my kids with their mental game in baseball. Not only did the book help me with parenting, but it helped me to reframe that experience as feedback instead of failure.
The core principle of the growth mindset is that your abilities and intelligence aren’t set at birth; that they’re malleable and can be shaped by effort and attitude. In other words, through hard work and effort, you can improve your ability in whatever area you want to improve in.
In the book “Mindset”, I felt like Dr. Dweck was speaking directly to me when she asked, “Is there something in your past that you think measured you? A test score? A dishonest or callous action? Being fired from a job? Being rejected? Focus on that thing. Feel all the emotions that go with it. Now put it in a growth minded perspective. Look honestly at your role in it, but understand that it doesn’t define your intelligence or personality. Instead, ask, What did I (or can I) learn from that experience? How can I use it as a basis for growth?”
I took the rejection experience and turned it around. I asked myself, how can I work toward becoming a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, colleague and employee? I immersed myself in books and podcasts. I started taking online courses on Udemy, Coursera, and Creative Live. I joined online communities to learn from others who were doing the same. And I began blogging to exercise my creative and writing muscles.
With the growth mindset, there was no expectation of anything in return other than becoming an all around better person. But guess what? When that golden opportunity for this job surfaced again—I was ready.
The growth mindset places value on the process of growth and development instead of the measurable outcome or results. The growth mindset places value on hard work, effort, and attitude. Having the growth mindset means that all of your effort is not wasted if you fall short of your goal because there is value in the process of working toward that goal.
“When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them.”
With the fixed mindset, hard work and effort are the enemy because: 1) you’re already born with a certain level of intelligence or ability (so why work toward something you’ll never achieve?), 2) if you try your best and fail, you have no excuse to tell yourself and/or others. (so why expend the effort?), and 3) failure defines you as a person. Since your abilities are embedded at birth, naturally talented folks don’t need to work hard for their accomplishments. If you need to work hard at something, it means you aren't smart or talented. And since there is no value placed on the process of working toward a goal, there is no reason in the fixed mindset to work toward high, lofty goals if they weren’t in the cards for you at birth.
There’s no room for self-limiting thoughts in the growth mindset. When your negative self-talk takes over and says, “You shouldn’t try for that job, they rejected you last time. And if you get rejected again you’ll be crushed.” Or, you want to start a new side hustle business but that voice in your head is telling you that people might think it’s a stupid idea, you might fail, you might lose money, and you might lose face. Those are all fixed mindset messages that limit you and prevent you from reaching for your dreams.
“The idea of trying and still failing—of leaving yourself without excuses—is the worst fear within the fixed mindset.”
It’s not easy. Although knowledge and awareness are the first step, execution is an entirely different matter. Even after I resolved to embody the growth mindset, those limiting thoughts still found a way to creep in. When the job posting came up, I initially told myself, “They’re not gonna hire you. They passed you over last time, and you had the same skill set then—so why bother?” I had to push past those limiting beliefs to submit my application. If I let those fixed minded messages get the best of me, I’d still be trudging in to my corporate cubicle, day after day, working at a job that I hated!
This is a results driven world. But do you see how having the growth mindset can lead to excellent results? As someone once said, “when you focus on the process, the results naturally follow”. What they mean is that if you focus intensely on improving and getting better, your results will inevitably improve!
My #1 takeaway from “Mindset”? That I was the biggest factor limiting myself and that I was preventing myself from reaching my full potential. I had to learn to get out of my own way! Remember that the growth mindset emphasizes hard work, effort, and attitude, and these are all 100% within our own control.
Will this be your year to resolve to change and take action?