Going beyond the fixed vs growth mindset false dichotomy

When we see our abilities as something that can't change, we're operating under a fixed mindset. When we see our abilities as something that can be nurtured and developed like a muscle, we're adopting a growth mindset.

People that share a growth mindset are more likely to seek out challenges and persist when they hit a roadblock. Failure is not seen as a source of shame or embarrassment. Rather as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

The ideas that underlie the growth mindset were introduced to me by Khan Academy when I was seventeen years-old. Coming to the absurd realisation that Shakespeare had to learn his abcs like the rest of us. Or that there had been a time in his life where Einstein understood maths in a shallower way than we do was eye-opening. It transformed and forever altered the course of my life.

Back then, I was undertaking a vocational high school degree instead of a traditional one. I made this decision out of fear after having failed tenth grade because I believed my ability to learn maths was limited. This belief was reinforced by my environment.

The new-found realisation empowered me to take a stance. After a long and hard conversation with my dad, I decided to go back to a normal high school in the following year to study science and technology. With advanced courses in maths, physics and biology. Something that was unimaginable a couple of months before that. I went on to do so much more than I ever deemed possible. From learning how to sing, to starting a band, to building a company.

9 years ago I saw the premise of the growth and fixed mindsets as diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive. Now I understand that life is often more nuanced than we make it out to be when we're young. Even though we operate predominantly under one of the two mindsets, we're prone to adopt aspects that relate to a fixed mindset. This is true when we're learning a new skill and work in an environment where our competency is lower than our peers. Or when we get fired or laid off and struggle with job safety. Understanding this complexity is important if we want to build a real, lasting growth mindset culture around us.

In the workplace, we usually work in teams where people have different levels of experience. This can affect us. And it can also affect of our peers and their motivation. One thing we can do is sharing our work and the process behind the final result more openly, with the flaws and parts we feel less proud about. Doing so is an act of courage and generosity. It helps others realise that there's nothing wrong with showing work that feels raw. It helps people who are less experienced tone down the more fixed aspects of their mindset and realise that they can improve. It helps them understand that the people they work with are also on a trajectory of growth that they can also join.

Only you know who you can be