I am not a big fan of self-help books and I’m particularly not a fan of the “tip” books. You know the ones – ten things every successful business owner must do, or ten tips to living your best life ever. The challenge I face when I read those books is that they seem to gloss over the hard parts, the failures and setbacks you will experience as you implement their tips and tricks. Often you will do, or try to do those things, and it won’t work out so well, or maybe it won’t work out at all. And then what? Are you doomed to fail or accept the status quo? Must you live your life looking at these success stories and accepting that you just don’t have what it takes to live your best life, or launch your business, or whatever it is you want to accomplish?
Change can be hard. Admitting things are not going to plan and starting over seems like losing, particularly in today’s world. You look around on social media and every single person seems to be succeeding – their hair looks good (although maybe not as good it did before COVID 19 closed salons) and their teeth are shiny and they look so confident and happy. And there you are, seemingly stuck.
I’ve been there – more times than I can tell you. As I mention in the background story on the Gratitude website, I experienced a big loss. I lost a job I really loved, and in the process lost a lot of friends ( or people I thought were friends, but more on that another time), and a social network, and I lost the thing that I had chosen as my identity. Yes, I had a supportive partner and a family that loved me, but in my mind, those were things that everyone had. The job was something that I had that few others had. It set me apart. I allowed it to provide a lot of validation. And I loved what I did – the interaction, the challenge, working with a team to solve problems. And then someone decided I wasn’t good enough at those things, wasn’t solving the problems quickly enough, or in the right way, and I was fired. And it hurt. A lot. And I cried. A lot. And I spent a lot of time thinking about what I did not have. And for a time I hunkered down and convinced myself that I needed to go back to what I knew best, and just accept that my foray in a new direction was destined to fail because I didn’t have what it took to be successful in this new career.
Then I did two things that set me on a much better path. I went to my first yoga class and I read a self-help book. I know, I know, just stick with me here, because I want to talk about what I learned from that book.
Carol Dweck writes about self-perception and mindset. She explores the idea of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. In the fixed mindset, we believe that we have a certain amount of intelligence, or talent, or aptitude, and we spend all our time trying to validate that allotment. We struggle when we make mistakes or experience failure, or don’t get the result we desired, because if we didn’t get the “win” easily, then surely that means we can never get the result we want – we have hit our limit. The alternative is the growth mindset. In the growth mindset, we see that we have is the starting point, and that our basic qualities can be developed through our efforts. What a radical thought – we can grow and be more than we are right now. But to do so means we have to accept the struggle and the setbacks and see them as part of the process, not a sign that we have hit our limits. As Dweck says, “Failure is the information-we label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, I’m a problem solver, and I’ll try something else.’”
And that is the essence of all change. If we can learn to see setbacks and failures as part of the process, not the end, and not as a measure of our ability to achieve our desire, then so much about our lives becomes so much easier. We don’t abandon our hopes and our goals, we simply accept that maybe the path is different or longer or goes in a different direction than we had originally seen. Perhaps most radically, we can accept our “failure” and treat ourselves kindly, rather than seeing failure as a measure of our self-worth. We may need some time to recover, but when we can see the less successful moments as learning moments that everyone who is striving experiences, then we see ourselves as works in progress with limitless potential. The only people who don’t have those moments are those who believe our future is determined at birth, and that when we hit our “potential” there is no place left to go.
I am learning to challenge my fixed mindset moments. To ask for the help I need. To embrace the scary and the moments that turn out differently than I had hoped. And in the process, I am embracing the idea that becoming is better than being because when I am becoming, there are no boundaries. And that is incredibly freeing. I do not have to be what I am today, or what other people think I am, or even what I set out to be. I can become anything.