The Growth Mindset

Photo by Robert Reyes on Unsplash

Just when I think I’ve got things figured out, something (or someone) comes along and ruins it. But maybe that’s good — maybe that means I have a growth mindset.

When I was 18, I thought I knew everything. I was going to college, where I’d get a good degree, then make boatloads of money. Life would be easy.

Then I went to college and realized I was wrong. Bringing home a 1.8 GPA the first quarter does that to a person. I eventually graduated at 23, and that’s when I decided I knew everything.

For the next seven years, I concentrated on bad relationships and wasting money. When I turned 30, I reflected on how much I had learned since the last time I thought I knew it all. Now that I was officially old, I decided that I finally knew everything.

Well, seven more years have since passed — and it feels like I never really knew anything at all. I’ve completely changed my mind on many things I thought I knew. I’ve unlearned things that I was sure were right. It’s humbling to wake up and realize I spent most of my life being wrong.

Actually, “wrong” is too strong of a word. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to most of our beliefs or ideas. If we’re doing this right, we just continue to grow and learn from our mistakes.

What is a growth mindset?

I won’t bore you with all the details. There’s a great article on brainpickings.org that covers everything. This quote from the article sums it up better than I could:

Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.

Maria Popova

The opposite is a fixed mindset, where we believe that our abilities and traits are more inherent and cannot be improved much. I know I prefer the former over the latter. If I have a growth mindset, it allows me the flexibility to change my mind. Or better — to constantly improve.

I didn’t know much about this topic before I started researching for this article. But, I think the concept fits with some of the thoughts I’ve had over the last few years.

Through the lens of a growth mindset…

Reading is not just a leisure activity.

I’m obsessed with nonfiction books, but this is a recent trend. Between the ages of 18 and 33, I may have read ten books. Then I found a book called “Choose Yourself!” in 2013, and it opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the world. The author painted a picture of an economic landscape that was foreign to me, and I was hooked. Now I read dozens of nonfiction books every year. I’ve learned more in the last four years then I did in my first 33.

[Side note: I recommend this book if you’re unsure about your career or what you want to do with your next ten years. It’s basically a short collection of blog posts edited and packaged into a book. The writing is choppy and some of his “practices” sound strange, but the message is inspiring.]

College isn’t necessary to be successful.

It’s not for everyone. Growing up in the ’90s, we were told college was our only option if we didn’t want to flip burgers for the rest of our lives. And not long after I graduated, my high school got rid of all the vocational classes. Now there’s a major shortage in skilled trades, and the amount of student loan debt is staggering.

College was great for me, and I’d do it the same way all over again. But, today we can learn almost anything we want for free online. And if we don’t like one thing, it’s easy to move on and learn something else. The best way to learn something — and to learn if we like it — is to try it. And that seems to fit the mold of a growth mindset.

Writing helps us make sense of our thoughts.

We don’t have to publish or share our thoughts — that can be scary. I’m dealing with that right now. But, writing them down gets them out of our brains and onto paper (or a computer screen). Then we can organize them, learn more about them, or just throw them away.

I started writing down every crazy idea that came into my head a few years ago. Most of them were terrible. But, as I learn more and think more, I write more things down. Seeing my thoughts spelled out helps me learn more about myself. And that qualifies as growth.


College students aren’t the only ones allowed to learn new things. And being an employee doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try new things outside of work. If we stop challenging ourselves, we become stagnant.

I hope I never have everything figured out. That just sounds boring.

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