Moving From a Fixed to a Growth Mindset

man climbing a boulder in black and white

“…Failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you.

– Carol Dweck

Have you ever experienced that overwhelming sense of failure after attempting something new and falling short? Perhaps you made a silent promise to yourself never to feel that way again.

Over time, you may have noticed a reluctance to take on new challenges, and the voice in your head started whispering,

“This is just who I am,” or “I’ll never be able to change.”

In her influential book, Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck explores this phenomenon and introduces the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets.

According to Dweck, a fixed mindset perceives talents and abilities as innate and unchangeable. On the other hand, a growth mindset is founded on the belief that our fundamental qualities can be cultivated through our efforts. Sure, innate talent exists, but the remarkable ability to change, improve, and learn new skills is a massive target worth pursuing.

Let’s delve into three key takeaways from Dweck’s work on shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset:

1 Failure does not define you

Dweck encourages us to see failures as invitations for growth. This doesn’t diminish the pain or disappointment that accompanies a failed business venture, marriage, or creative project. Instead, it changes the narrative from “I failed; therefore, I am a failure” to “that was tough, and it didn’t turn out as I hoped. But now I know better and can do better next time.”

In a fixed mindset, challenges are perceived as terrifying dragons to avoid or escape. While adopting a growth mindset allows us to view challenges, the process, and even failures as companions on the journey toward personal and professional development. By embracing failures as stepping stones, and seeing them as valuable learning experiences we are able to shift focus from the outcome to the process. 

2 Embrace the Process 

A fixed mindset buys into the fallacy that we must be perfect or proficient at everything from the very beginning. For example, you sit down to try your hand at creative writing and become astounded and anxious because you can’t produce a novel like Marilynne Robinson on your first attempt.

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell highlights our society’s obsession with “effortless” success stories, neglecting to acknowledge the countless hours of work and dedication invested by superstar athletes, tech billionaires, and exceptional artists.

A fixed mindset convinces us that talents and skills are unattainable, while a growth mindset recognises the value of effort and welcomes the challenge of discipline and honing our craft. By embracing the process we begin to see that effort over time becomes a catalyst to growth.

3 Suspend Judgement,
Choose Curiosity

In reality, we all struggle with the trappings of a fixed mindset. Instead of shaming yourself, suspend judgement and approach life with curiosity.

Dweck outlines five helpful steps to transition from a fixed to a growth mindset:

  • Understand that fixed and growth mindsets exist on a continuum.
  • Identify when the fixed mindset persona or voice is strongest (during times of stress, procrastination, new work opportunities, or relationship challenges).
  • Recognize the language and characteristics of the fixed mindset persona.
  • Educate this persona and extend a compassionate invitation to growth.
  • Enlist the support of others on this transformative journey.

Shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset is a transformative journey that requires time, effort, and patience.

Remember, our abilities are not set in stone. With dedication and continuous effort, we can learn, improve, and thrive.

Ask yourself, what step can you take today to nurture your growth mindset? Let curiosity guide you!

Embracing Meaningful Work

black and white photo of 2 people working in office

Jobs, Careers, and Vocation

Some say, “if you love what you do, then you never work a day in your life.” But let’s be honest, how many of us actually experience this cliché?

Perhaps a better saying would be, “The reward for good work is more work.” At Avenir, we have found a way to love what we do: coaching, leading, conversing, and teaching organizations and individuals how to lead better and healthier lives.

But our journey has been one of hard work, diligence, and constant growth. In this blog, we will explore three stages of work and how a perspective shift can help us cultivate a more meaningful outlook on work.

Jobs: Stepping Stones Towards Something Bigger

Throughout history, many people had limited options for earning a living. Factors such as birth, gender, social status, and geographic location played a significant role in determining their jobs. A job may serve as a stepping stone toward building or finding a fulfilling career. It is an opportunity to gain experience, develop skills, and pave the way for future growth.

Careers: Climbing the Ladder of Knowledge and Opportunity

A career is often associated with a specific profession and its body of knowledge. It requires a combination of studying and real-world experience. For example, studying law leads to becoming a lawyer, while the pursuit of medicine demands grueling hours and social sacrifices to become a doctor. Careers offer a sense of progression, with each rung on the ladder bringing new possibilities. However, some careers may eventually lose their appeal, leaving individuals yearning for new challenges and opportunities.

Vocation: Unleashing the Full Potential of Your Life

Vocation, historically associated with lifelong service in religious or priestly roles, has now taken on broader implications. It encompasses all aspects of life—eating, drinking, sleeping, and working. Vocation focuses less on financial gain and more on creating flourishing in the world and those around us. It asks the question: “What would you do if you got paid nothing?” Regardless of our occupation, whether it involves cleaning latrines, packing shelves, or removing cancerous tumours, vocation is about finding purpose and meeting the world’s deepest needs. It is where personal longings and societal needs intersect.

Embracing Meaningful Work: Shifting Perspectives

Work, in any form, has the power to be transformative. It can create a sense of community, nurture young minds, or connect people with enriching experiences. By shifting our perspective, we can view our jobs, tasks, and careers as more than just means to an end or a mere paycheck. Instead, they become invitations to embrace the entirety of our lives as deeply meaningful. As the late spiritual writer Frederick Buechner observed that vocation is “the place your deepest happiness meets the world’s deep needs”.

By embracing a more meaningful understanding of work we are able to better serve our teams, leaders, and ultimately the world.

Leading with Redeemed Ambition

black and white photo of man running on foggy mountain

Have you heard of Rajat Gupta?

Gupta was raised in Kolkata, Indiana, and was orphaned in his early teens. But he excelled in his studies and later completed his MBA at Harvard Business School. Gupta became the CEO of McKinney and grew his personal net worth to around 100 million dollars. He also served with the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and partnered with well-known philanthropists like Bill Gates. Quite a success story, right?

In 2008, however, Gupta was arrested for insider trading. Despite his achievements in career, education, and recognition, he risked it all. Gupta’s misguided ambition led him to lose everything. 1

Now, there are many factors at play here, but personal ambition has the power to compromise ethics and humility, leaving behind broken promises, damaged relationships, and burned bridges, all for the sake of personal gain or progress.

But is ambition always a bad thing? (That’s a rhetorical question, of course). The answer is no! However, unrefined and misguided ambition can be unhealthy and even dangerous. Just think of the Greek myth of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, or the cautionary tale of Rajat Gupta we just read about.

In a helpful article by the Harvard Business Review, three types of ambition are defined:

  1. Performance ambition: focusing on achieving results for oneself or the organization.
  2. Growth ambition: focusing on personal development and growth.
  3. Achievement ambition: focusing on external rewards for oneself or others.

Each of these forms of ambition carries its own benefits and risks. But there’s a fourth type of ambition we haven’t discussed yet: redeemed ambition.

Defining Redeemed Ambition

Redeemed ambition can be defined as utilizing one’s drive to bring prosperity to an organization, its employees, and ultimately, society. On the surface, this may seem similar to the previous three forms of ambition, and indeed, there are many parallels. However, for a leader driven by redeemed ambition, humility, confidence, and self-sacrifice are the underlying motivators.

A leader with redeemed ambition empowers and brings out the best in others. They know how to challenge and motivate their team to perform just above their capacity, pushing them to grow without causing harm. This is the difference between inspiring and bullying. Leadership can either be driven by force and misguided ambition or by partnership and encouragement, which is redeemed ambition.

On the other hand, bad or immature ambition seeks personal glory and gratification, while redeemed ambition uses humility, influence, and stature to serve a greater vision and others.

Ultimately, ambition itself is not intrinsically evil or wrong. In fact, a lack of ambition can be an issue. However, when ambition is misplaced or misguided, it hinders growth and well-being in individuals, teams, and organizations. Redeemed ambition, however, has the potential to develop the leaders and teams that the world truly needs.

1 I originally read this story in the book The Psychology of Money. Morgan Housel, The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness, (London, UK: Harriman House 2020), 35 – 39. See also: D. McDonald, “Rajta Gupta: Touched by scandal,” Fortune (October 1, 2020).