There is a line in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” that has stayed with me:
“Everything will be alright in the end. If it is not alright, it is not yet the end.”
I remember at the time I saw this movie, there were some ups and downs happening in my career and in my personal life. It was like I was on a never ending roller coaster. The upside down and twisty parts were rapid and close together, and happening at warp speed. It felt like there was no way I would catch a moment to re-center myself. Life and work felt like a constant hammer beating me over the head; nothing I was doing got the results I was looking for. I was going through the motions of work and life and not getting anything out of them. Arguably, I stopped putting anything into them. My mind was made up: no matter what I did, nothing was going to change.
I watched this with my husband at home, maybe a year after it came out. Movie nights at our house feel like a night out; we cook really great food, drink great wine, and tune out of regular life for a while. That’s what I had planned on for this night; just to check out of reality for a while. And then…this line came up. After I heard this, something ignited inside my head and my heart. Suddenly, I saw options where there were none. Suddenly, I was inspired when there was only doom. Suddenly, there was hope. Hope that change could happen. Hope that where my life was at the moment was not the end game. Suddenly, all the goals I had for myself that I gave up on…became possible. Suddenly, that one line in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” became a kick start for things I hadn’t done…yet. That one word “yet” made such a difference.
When I was a kid, my performance in school was focused solely on results. My parents had goals for me, and even through the completion of my Masters degree, I frequently heard from them “go get that A” or “I must pronounce your report card as AAAAAAAAAA or ABABABABA.” Quite literally, we would stand in the kitchen and my dad would make the sound of how my report card should read as if it were a single word. I don’t remember much about how any of my teachers approached learning because I was so focused on the end result. Getting an A earned my parents a lot of pride. It earned me relief that I didn’t have to deal with the emotionally painful lectures of getting a C or worse. When I got older, good grades equated to being gifted material things…and the relief of avoiding the lectures.
I was being rewarded for having a fixed mindset; for being focused solely on the outcomes. From my perspective, I was being rewarded for avoiding uncomfortable situations. If the movie had been my childhood, that one line would have been, “Everything will be alright in the end…as long as the results meet expectations.”
As my career progressed, I was getting results; definitely meeting goals, even exceeding them. I was also getting annual review feedback with comments like “you are focusing too much on results” or “stop being so hard on yourself.” This is where I started to get really confused; back in school days, I was rewarded for results; now I’m getting mixed messages; why am I getting coaching (to me, the equivalent of parental lectures for a C) if I met or exceeded the goal? It didn’t make sense to me. What they were really saying was, “your fixed mindset is creating issues for me and your teammates.” OK…so if focusing on results is not the name of the game…then I needed to change. Change what, and how?
I didn’t know that a “growth mindset” was a thing. I didn’t know that placing a focus on the learning process and troubleshooting process was, in itself, a measure of progress that could be rewarded. I didn’t know that going into my first career after my Master’s degree, that HOW one got results was as important, if not more important, than the results themselves. I just figured that focusing on getting great business results would mean lots of congratulations and good reviews.
Enter: Carol Dweck. She brought the brilliance of the growth mindset to us through her research with students. As I listened to her in a TED talk, I was quickly brought back to my own school days, and how my environment was very much results oriented vs growth oriented. She talked about an experiment where researchers asked students to solve a problem at a skill level just slightly higher than their current level. The students with the growth mindset approached it with an openness to learn something new, ready to try something they hadn’t before, even if they couldn’t solve it yet. The students with the fixed mindset were frustrated and felt they couldn’t do it; it was going to be a disaster. Guess which kid I would have been?
The students with the growth mindset had the power of yet on their side. They knew they couldn’t solve completely, so they focused on the learning process. The TED talk goes on to show that students who were rewarded for having a growth mindset…rewarded for the processes of learning…fared better than students who were rewarded for and focused only on results. The power of yet. My entire education was focused on getting the grades now…not getting the grades yet.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of articles, YouTube videos, memes, blogs, etc. on the growth mindset vs the fixed mindset. Growth mindsets are flexible, fluid, adaptable, open, and alive. Fixed mindsets are gloomy, stubborn, narrow, definitive, and exclusive. A growth mindset allows the power of yet to come alive. A growth mindset is how you achieve, innovate, create, start, launch, change, improve, inspire. One of the keys of the growth mindset is resilience. The act of trying again. The process of failing, making mistakes, inviting feedback, and keeping on with working towards the goal. Think about scientists who failed…until they didn’t. Or a business that was tiny and small and unsuccessful…until it wasn’t. Or someone who was rejected for the same job multiple times…until an offer came. All of these situations have the underpinnings of a growth mindset. There are probably thousands of inventions that never came to life, and the same number of businesses that never got off the ground…in part because fixed mindsets got in the way of innovation and change.
After watching the movie and thinking deeply about what Ms. Dweck and her team’s research offered, I started to realize why my approach to my work (and even some parts of my personal life) was not alright. I knew that in order change, I needed to adopt a strong sense of awareness. I literally had no idea I had a fixed mindset until I looked at my past in a figurative rearview mirror. When a new project or brand new issue would come my way and require my involvement, the leader voice I used on the outside, was not always the same voice on the inside. I was not being authentic or honest to myself or others. The “fake it until you make it” mentality was not working.
Countless times, I said “yes I can” with poise and confidence to anyone who asked me to take on a project, help with a task, or give input on a strategy as examples. And nearly as many times, I went back to my desk and let out a huge exhale, saying to myself, “I have no clue how to start…what if I fail? I need to avoid the pain of failure.” That fixed mindset that I was previously rewarded for kept creeping in. It took a ton of energy for me to be one person on the outside and fight that fixed mindset on the inside. I was getting the needed results, despite operating with a fixed mindset. After awareness came acceptance, and I was astutely aware and willingly accepted that I had a fixed mindset. Next steps: the journey of the mindset shift.
The changes started when I would say out loud the fixed mindset statement that came all too easily, then I would reframe it to a growth mindset statement, and also say that out loud. An amazing, unexpected thing happened when I did this: the actual emotional feelings were different when I said each statement! When I said the fixed statement, I felt a sense of defeat. When I said the growth statement, I felt a sense of hope, like a ray of energy and light that opened all the doors I needed to complete an assignment. As time went on, that silent fixed mindset started to fade, and both my inside and outside leader voices were replete with growth.
In her TED talk, Ms. Dweck illustrates that new neural connections can be created in our brains. Changing my mindset was literally creating new connections in my head! I liked the feeling of the growth mindset statements. I liked how the doors of opportunity and options flew open with gusto when I changed my thoughts and words. Having a growth mindset was the gateway I’d been seeking to unlock my career, my point of view, and even improve relationships both within and outside the workplace.
I am shifting my focus to the incredible power of yet. I am noticing what I’m thinking, and why I am thinking it. I’m focusing on the journey. If I haven’t met a goal, it’s not that I failed myself or my team…it simply didn’t happen yet. My journey will include daily practice of growth mindset behaviors and making sure that my inside and outside leader voices demonstrate an authentic, positive growth mindset. Do I still have moments when I go back to focusing only on the outcome? Sure. Do I have moments of doubt, when nothing seems possible? Absolutely; after all, I am human! I’m aware, and I know how to catch it early and shift my mindset towards growth. These moments are wonderful reminders that I’m capable of change, and there’s an entire world of opportunity out there waiting for me. There are goals I want to achieve. It’s not about having achieved them by now…it’s about not having achieved them yet.
I have included some links and infographics to explain a growth vs fixed mindset. I do believe that developing and nurturing a growth mindset will continue to unleash unexpected opportunities for me, and I’m looking forward to the journey! I encourage each of you to develop an awareness of your dominant mindset style, and begin to use your leader voice to ask for feedback and guidance to shift from fixed to growth, or, to continue to develop your growth mindset and assist others in developing their own growth mindset.
That movie line sparked the change. I think I’ll close by taking the liberty to rephrase the movie line:
With a growth mindset, everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end!
Below find links to download a discussion guide to use with your Supervisor on your journey to develop or nurture a growth mindset, and a worksheet to help you shift fixed mindset statements into growth mindset statements.