“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us the chance to show how badly we want something.” – Randy Pausch.
This is certainly one of my all-time favorites, as it so beautifully describes the real purpose of failure and adversity.
Life is hard sometimes, and we all fail. Sometimes big, sometimes small, but we all do. In those moments, it is so easy to just throw in the towel and quit or come up with excuses of why we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough.
The antidote to that is realizing that failing does not make you a failure, and that how you move forward from failure is all about your thinking.
Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor and author of the amazing book Mindset, has shown in her research that people usually approach life in one of two ways:
Fixed Mindset: When you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your basic skills, talents, and abilities are born and don’t change over time. You build your self-esteem around being smart or talented, and put in significant efforts to prove your intelligence rather than learn new things.
But what happens when you have a fixed mindset and fail? You believe that your abilities are set in stone, so there is only one logical conclusion: This is not for me, so let’s give up.
As you can see, that’s a recipe for failure. So what should we do instead? Choose a growth mindset!
Growth Mindset: When you have a growth mindset, you view life as a series of challenges designed to help you improve your skills. Instead of fearing failure and adversity, you look forward to it. Not because the prospects of failure seem particularly exciting to you, but because you know that the only way to improve your skills is to try things that are difficult.
So what happends when you have a growth mindset and fail? You believe that your basic abilities are essentially unlimited and can only be enhanced through practice, so the choice is easy: Learn the lesson, and back in the game for more!
Which mindset you choose depends on what you build your self-esteem around. We all want to feel like intelligent and worthy people, so we all choose different things to prove our value. When you choose a fixed mindset, your self-esteem depends on being smart and proving that to other people. In every encounter, you always try to look smart rather than learning and becoming smart.
On the other side, if you have a fixed mindset, you see yourself as the learner. It doesn’t matter where you are today, as long as you work to be better tomorrow. People with a growth mindset are motivated by growth and improvements rather than absolute performances. They would rather be 10th in a hard race where they gave it their all than win a race without competition.
Cultivating a fixed mindset is not easy. But that’s exactly the point, I guess: It’s not supposed to be easy! Improving your skills, learning, growing, they all require effort. It’s easy to blame everything on your born talents or lack thereof, but at the end of the day, when you look in the mirror, you will know the truth: Did you give it your all?