Show Your Work

Let’s talk about growth mindset. I have seen this terminology being thrown around, especially to serve as a differentiator on job applications and personal mission statements. After reading Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck, I have a new level of understanding that I would like to share. Before studying the subject matter, I had this preconceived notion of what it meant to be growth-minded, and it was correlated to perfection. This was so far from the truth, but it gave me a chance to see how much I have grown.

As I look back at my childhood, perfection seldom warranted progress. There were many instances in my school days where I would avoid making any sort of mistake just to stay “perfect”. At times, that meant that I would avoid a difficult exercise altogether. I had been given a positive label that I was just scared of losing. My self-esteem, confidence, and energy were all tied to the maintenance of the “ideal” version of me. I was so focused staring down at my current position that I failed to see where I was headed or just how far I’d come. In order words, I was going nowhere fast. The key is to detach yourself from status, titles, and labels. By the way, the same is true for negative labels, but instead you’re scared of deserving them.

I was catching up with a friend the other day and as we started to dive into these concepts, she highlighted that she had a teacher in elementary school who banned erasers. What sounded both odd and harsh for a group so young soon got me thinking that he may have been before his time. The brilliant ploy forced students to accept mistakes for what they were and move on. When it came to tests and quizzes, he did not want the crisp correct answer located just beneath the problem. He wanted the chicken scratch and strikethroughs in all their chaotic beauty. He wanted to see the work.

Having a growth mindset requires you to tie your success to your work ethic. As for my friend’s teacher, he wanted to know what was going on in the mind of every student that stepped foot in his class. He knew that students able to answer the question will get by for that grade. But, students who question the answer are better positioned for a lifetime of learning. With thought process on paper, the teacher has more to work with than ever before. It is in those small faults where growth truly happens. This is applicable in any facet of life.

We as humans tend to go down the path of least resistance. It is just our nature. We want acceptance and acknowledgement so bad that we will cover up our mistakes in hopes that people see what we have to offer. But when the complexities of our problems conform into our reality, we have a propensity to stop. Analysis paralysis constricts our movement and we are affixed in our current situation (and more importantly mindset). Even those with uber talent fall victim to a fixed mindset from time to time. When it comes to growth, it doesn’t matter where you start specifically, but how you build yourself from there. Knowing what you are working with is good, but we can’t improve unless we know what to work on. In reality, striving for perfection stunts growth whereas failure provides feedback. 

Most people who don’t love who they are becoming will convince themselves otherwise. So, it is time to get real with yourself. Don’t like what you are doing? Experiment and find what you do enjoy. Not getting the grades you were hoping for? Tackle the more difficult problem set and get an expert’s opinion. Haven’t been able to start that project you are excited about? Block off 20 minutes today and act. It is important to level set expectations based on the work that you plan to do. A wise man once told me to plan the work, then work the plan. It isn’t going to be pretty most of the time, but effort will rob you of excuses.

When effort is constantly being outputted over time, that person magically turns successful (with a little guidance). Its good work ethic which breeds progress and rivals growth. This individual has conditioned themself to withstand short term pitfalls and temporary slip ups because it is all part of the process. You may even gain a few admirers along the way. Having a good mindset gives you the guts to go out and perform. Having a growth mindset gives you the heart to take a beating, but stay in the game. 

Whether you are taking on something for the first time or the millionth, be naive enough to make mistakes and humble enough to ask for help. Be agile enough to make changes and resilient enough to not give up. It takes years to be an overnight success, and it all starts with a growth mindset.


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