This post is going to be less focused on practical, step-by-step advice and more on theory. Like taking piano lessons but not getting to touch a piano yet because you have to learn about music notes.
All the practical advice in the world means nothing if you don’t develop a growth mindset.
“Growth mindset” means a state of constant learning. No matter how expert you become in something, recognize there is always something to learn.
I thought that graduating from my MBA program meant all learning was complete. School was finally done, FOREVER (#neveragain!) Yes, school was done, but I’ve found that learning was not. It’s like in the last year and a half my brain got used to questioning and studying and researching and it can’t be turned off--nor do I want it to.
I’ve found that learning new stuff is fun. I love going down rabbit holes about random subjects, asking people questions about their opinions, and watching documentaries.
Plus, all this learning makes me really great at bar trivia.
Recently I met the CEO of a vendor with whom my company works. He was very charismatic and intelligent and had an impressive background. He constantly asked each of us about ourselves, not to figure out an “angle” but out of genuine curiosity. Our conversations ran the gamut from my Hollywood experience, to Brexit, to whether honey in coffee is healthier than sugar. It became clear how he had become a successful CEO-- not because of his impressive background, but because his curiosity was insatiable.
Strong leaders (business or otherwise) don’t get that way assuming they know everything. They learn how to lead by asking questions, involving others, and gathering information. They make mistakes, and then choose to learn from failure rather than giving up.
A growth mindset has to be cultivated.
In order to grow as people, we must stay curious about our world. Question concepts we take for granted. At work, this may be asking why your company does something a certain way. In life, it could take the shape of analyzing why you have certain opinions or why one country does something one way and ours does it another.
Note that none of this include passing judgment. You’re curious because you want to see what makes things tick.
Of course, if you’re used to simply accepting the status quo and doing things how they’ve always been done because that’s just how it is, you’re gonna have a hard time. But if you want to commit to developing your own growth mindset, start here:
Seriously. Get curious. Ask people about themselves, ask coworkers why certain things work the way they do, ask a barista what their favorite coffee is. View the world like a younger version of yourself. There are so many exciting things out there we ignore because we’re mired in our day to day lives, never questioning habits or opinions.
It feels awkward at first to ask questions. Even if it feels dumb, ask. There is something out there you’ve never considered before, and the most simple conversation can prove to be an information goldmine. It only takes a few questions to get that discussion rolling.
Are you one of those people who says “yeah I really need to get around to doing XYZ” and then never does? What would happen if you actually got off your ass and did it? What would happen if the next time you said this out loud, you asked yourself why it really hasn’t gotten done yet?
“I’ll start as soon as I lose 5 lbs”. “I don’t know how and can’t be bothered to Google it.” “I’m too busy.” Give your subconscious some much needed side-eye, because we’re lying to ourselves.
Call B.S. on yourself. Rather than hiring somebody to change your car’s oil, figure it out yourself. Download Duolingo and start learning a new language. Read "War and Peace", I don’t care. Find that thing you’ve been putting off for ages (you know what it is) and actually do it.
You just don’t know quite enough yet to help anybody, right? Well, unless you’re literally a baby, this is false. Just like there’s always somebody out there who knows more than you, there’s always somebody who knows less and could benefit from your experience.
Mentoring, accepting a lunch invitation, and even just responding to an email are not just nice things to do. There’s personal benefit, too.
Sure, this undergrad kiddo might be asking how to interview, but they also have a different perspective on your industry. Their questions will spark ideas at work. They’ll take your advice and add their own angle to it, or innovate something based on your experience. It’s awesome!
If you’re sensing a common theme in this post (something like "for the love of God just DO IT”, perhaps), you’re correct. We don’t do these things because they require change, and we're just so dang tired and busy all the time we don't want to deal with it. So we put up mental roadblocks to let ourselves off the hook. We relax into routines without question because it's easier.
This is exactly why personal growth cannot happen without the right mindset. Growth is not easy. It is work. We cannot relax into routine because we must question why we even have that routine.
The upside? Putting work into yourself gets results. It’s kind of like weight lifting-- if you do it enough, you will get muscles.
But you have to start.