I finished reading Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck a few weeks ago. Instead of sharing the key insights and summarizing this book I want to share a few stories from my life.
When I was in high school I put myself under a crazy amount of pressure to take every Honors/AP class offered and get nothing less than an A in each class. This resulted in 4 years where I spent a seriously sickening number of hours studying. I invested all this time because I allowed each grade to define who I was. Anything less than an ‘A’ would mean that I was dumb. Although, I worked very very hard there were times when I allowed this obsession to be perfect push me to do things I’m not so proud of, like talking my AP Spanish teacher to give me an A in the class when I probably deserved to fail.
The classes I loved in high school were my math and english classes. Although I excelled in math, english was very difficult, but I was in love with the writing process. There was something about reflecting on ideas and themes and crafting a powerful story into an essay that I really enjoyed. However, once I got into Berkeley I was scared to pursue these passions. The inner critique was telling me that I was now in the big leagues where the smartest mathematicians, writers, & philosophers come to study. Instead of taking these tough classes on topics that really fascinated me I took the safe classes where my ‘A’ would be guaranteed. I resigned to the belief that there was no way to compete against these other students and since anything less than perfection wasn’t acceptable, why even try?
For a good portion of my life I was physically out of shape. I was over weight and I was weak. I experimented with going to the gym but I felt inferior bench pressing 65lbs when all the guys who were my age were doing much much higher weights. Instead of using this as fuel to workout harder I told myself that my Indian genes wouldn’t allow for me to be a fast runner or muscular, so I always ended up stopping going to the gym.
When I look at my teenage years into my early 20s I spent a great deal of my time trying to protect my identity and ego. This is exactly what Dweck writes about her book, and I fell into the classic profile of a person with the Fixed Mindset. During these years I had the option to approach life from the Growth mindset. This would have meant that I engage in activities that I love regardless of whether I am “good” or “bad” at it. It would have meant that I took classes since I was in love with learning and not because it would be another ‘A’ to add to my transcript. At the gym, it would have meant that I double down and put in 2x effort to get stronger and fitter as opposed to resigning to the fixed belief I developed about myself.
Fortunately, sometime during the end of college I shed a lot of my fixed beliefs. This wasn’t an active decision, I actually think it came about from my interest in buddhism and understanding the ego. Through studying Buddhism I realized that this life is impermanent, everything is fluid, so there is no reason to ascribe to an identity for it is illusory.
Also, after some reflection I realized that the times that have been the most memorable and growth oriented has been the times when I jumped into the unknown to push myself. Life is way more fun when you aren’t playing it safe and are challenging yourself in ways that you never thought were possible. There is no reason to fear anything because through hard work you can develop your talents and abilities.