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Embrace a Growth Mindset – Even If It’s Uncomfortable

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

A compelling platitude, right? Also, one that can be seen on everything from coffee mugs to over-sized office posters. Here’s what I think of this question; it’s comfortable. I’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

In my earlier blog post, I discussed authenticity and the fear that can be a barrier to being our authentic selves at work. This same fear can act as a blindfold to what’s possible for us if we are willing to break out of the limited thinking of a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset is fearful because it views failures as permanent, and any resulting conversations around those failures as personal attacks. The fixed mindset is one loaded with egocentric, me-first thinking.

A growth mindset may also feel fear in a challenging situation. The growth mindset understands that fear is a visceral response to the unknown and is willing to push that fear aside for the opportunity to experience growth. This mindset understands there is little space for ego and how each new growth opportunity affects not just the self, but the whole organization.

Let’s take a look at how the two different mindsets respond in a couple of different scenarios:

  1. Your manager pulls you into her office and shares that she thinks you have leadership potential and wants to promote you to a supervisory position on the team.
    • If you have a fixed mindset, you immediately start thinking of your inexperience in this kind of role. You question your ability to be successful, and worry about what kind of leader you could actually be. The fixed mindset nudges you toward politely declining the offer in favor of staying in the position where you know you can continue to meet expectations consistently.
    • Having a growth mindset doesn’t eliminate your concerns, but it allows you to imagine the possibilities and even to feel excitement for the challenge ahead. The growth mindset compels you to the edge of your seat and urges you to accept with enthusiasm, knowing you will have a hand in shaping a more positive and productive future for your team.
  1. You overhear a conversation in which two teammates are discussing their frustrations over a particular computer application, one with which you are quite familiar, and are comfortable using on a daily basis.
    • If you’re stuck in a fixed mindset then you may be inclined to dismiss the opportunity to help because you think it’s not your role to teach anyone how to use apps, or that the exposure of your expertise may lead to you being called upon to share with more than just a couple of your teammates.
    • Practicing a growth mindset will likely lead to you popping out of your chair and offering to assist because you understand that when you share knowledge with your teammates you aren’t just helping a few people, you’re helping the entire organization by extension.

I said I’d come back to the question of what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail, and my assertion that it’s comfortable. I think it’s comfortable because it’s predictable. Having the knowledge of the outcome before outset automatically sets us off on the path with a fixed mindset. Our ego is safe, and we don’t need to worry about how our actions, effort, heart, or willingness to be challenged affects anyone but ourselves because we already know that we will be successful.

If we want to walk out a growth mindset, then comfortable is the last thing that we need. In the spirit of saying no to the fixed mindset and to the ego, and in accepting the challenge of the unknown and the growth mindset I think the real question should be this:

What could you accomplish if you approached each new challenge as an opportunity for growth?

Lisa Menke is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a digital media developer who is passionate about the intersection where opportunities for professional growth and participatory culture meet. As a training specialist for the State of Nebraska, Lisa is currently responsible for the creation of digital media in support of agency training & development, and communications. Read her posts here

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