About five years ago, I resigned from my job to return to school and embark on a whole new career path. This was not an easy decision for me to make as it meant I was giving up my financial independence, leaving a career that I spent more than a decade in, and losing a part of my identity. So, when I was in graduate school, I pushed myself to earn top grades and learn all I can in my new industry, determined that I would land a great job shortly after graduation. Despite my hard work, my plans didn’t come to fruition. Instead of being excited about my future, I often felt that I wasn’t talented or skilled enough to get hired. As much as I tried to squash that narrative running through my mind, it affected how I interviewed, how often I applied to jobs, and my networking skills. I didn’t realize that I was sabotaging myself by having a fixed mindset about my skills and expertise.
So, what does it mean to have a fixed mindset? This is when one believes their intelligence, skills, and creative potential are static and cannot be modified in any meaningful way. Studies have shown that when people view themselves with a fixed mindset, they often feel they fall short of having an inherent talent or the right experience they need. The end result is they don’t accomplish or procrastinate on completing what they set out to do because that little voice inside their head is telling them they can’t do it or are no good at it.
By contrast, are the people who believe that intelligence, skills, and creativity can be developed through practice and effort. People who operate with this thinking of themselves are using a growth mindset. They see their failures as a part of learning and will not let any setbacks or other people’s beliefs hold them back.
According to Carol Dweck, a Stanford University Psychologist in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, we constantly shift on a spectrum of these two different mindsets or ways of thinking. And you can transition from one mindset to the other in a blink of an eye. For example, suppose your supervisor announces she would like you to lead a new project. At first, you start planning the details of the project and who you want on your team. But then you run into a snag with the project, and the fixed mindset takes over. You find yourself overwhelmed about needing to overcome this obstacle, and you lose your motivation to find a solution to this problem. Several weeks have gone by before you know it, and you have not made much progress on the project, jeopardizing your professional reputation while holding you back on your professional development and learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change, including how businesses have had to adapt and learn nearly every day. In these challenging times, it is more important for everyone in an organization, especially those in a leadership role, to find creative solutions to problems and not give up when times get tough. This is not to suggest that executives in the industries that have been hit hard by this pandemic had a fixed mindset and their losses are attributed to this type of thinking. Rather, it’s the unfortunate reality of how social distancing and other COVID-related factors impacted their businesses.
But for the industries that continue to persevere or even flourish during this crisis, part of their success certainly stems from their leaders being willing to operate outside of their comfort zones and being creative in driving the business forward. So, instead of a C-suite executive feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future because of that negative voice running through her mind telling her she will fail, she can focus on finding creative and innovative solutions to solve problems. But how do you do this when your fixed mindset thinking is preventing you from even starting? Studies have shown that if you create small wins by changing your habits, you will gain the confidence needed to do what you set out to do. This is where the saying “fake it until you make it” rings true. Once you start noticing these small wins, your confidence will grow, and suddenly you realize that not only can you set out and achieve what it is you are looking to do but that you can definitely do it. And wouldn’t you rather feel good about what learning new things and building new skills even if you experience setbacks than preserve some sort of persona by believing you have qualities that are written in stone?
In my case, I realize that the skills and experience I gained in my past career can be a great foundation for my new one. I admit that I struggle at times to push past these self-limiting beliefs I have about myself. But, each time I do, I feel my confidence grow, which can only help me in the future.
Christine Krause is Chicago-based professional in the communications industry who has a passion for drafting and delivering factual and compelling messages that educate diverse audiences. She is an experienced communicator whose work helped to reduce municipality operating costs up to 60% and provided information covering a multitude of topics to over one million people. As a versatile and creative individual with a strong penchant for learning and an excellent command of the English language, she likes to help organizations provide resources for their customers, members, and stakeholders, supporting their mission through education and communication.