Sara Valasek is a Senior Director, Lean Growth at The Garage Group. Read as she reflects on her journey towards changing her “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.”
Almost 2 years ago, I left my BigCo job and world-class benefits to go in a new direction. For the previous 15 years of my career, I had largely stayed in the same field and was focused on honing my craft, and more importantly, getting the promotions and raises to demonstrate it to the world. After some big life changes, I decided it was time to break free of the complacency that had began to set in. When I joined The Garage Group, Mindset was at the top of the suggested reading list for all new employees. The book dives into the differences between fixed and growth mindsets. We teach our clients how to adopt a growth mindset and about the impact it can have personally and professionally if you let it, so we kind of need to be good examples (insert smiley face emoji).
What is a Growth Mindset?
First, it’s probably helpful to define a fixed mindset as this is often a natural starting point. A fixed mindset believes that your qualities are innate and finite (e.g. “I’m not a natural leader. I’ll never be able to lead my team through significant change.”). On the other hand, a growth mindset places value on hard work, effort and personal growth (e.g. “I just received a new project at work that I’ve never done. It will be exciting to dive in and learn new things! I’m sure I’ll have to put in extra effort, but I’ll learn so much in the process”). The Garage Group believes a growth mindset is fundamental to building the resiliency required to adapt and remain relevant as an individual, brand, or organization. You can learn more about how a growth mindset enables innovation, disruption and progress here!
Why a Growth Mindset Matters?
I’m married to a therapist, so I’ve certainly heard (and believe) that our thoughts are important. I just never thought much about how the collection of our thoughts form a total mindset that has so much power over our lives. When we hold onto our fixed mindsets, we limit ourselves, our potential accomplishments, our potential impact on others. Sure, it may feel safe to avoid failures, the discomfort of new things, or believe that we just have a strengths-based approach to things (i.e. choosing to focus on natural strengths vs. weaknesses).
Reading this book jolted me awake to the fact that I very much lived the majority of life with a fixed mindset. I grew up as a straight “A” student, was Valedictorian, and didn’t have to put in nearly as much effort as many of my peers. It was a rude awakening during my freshman year of college to realize I had to study very hard to maintain good grades. It also put into question all of the stock and value I put into being “smart”. If I had to work hard that surely meant I wasn’t really “smart”. Needless to say, my personal identity was shaken and tested during many humble late nights at the library.
The last 2 years in my new role (having many entirely new responsibilities) have produced more learning opportunities than my previous 5 years. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve often questioned if I have what it takes. Truth be told, I question this at some point nearly every day. I feel like this “growth mindset” concept skipped my Gen X group and 17 years into my career, I feel like I’m starting to understand what it means to really take risks in the pursuit of growth.
My goals today are fairly focused and simple. I’m currently prioritizing opportunities that will accelerate my learning and growth, with minimal guardrails and criteria. I’ve shifted my mindset and priorities away from titles, status, income, and traditional career achievements to a job where I have tons to learn. In many ways, I’ve learned that I have a capacity for challenges I didn’t believe I had. I’m getting used to “being a student” of life vs. being in pursuit of mastery.
That being said, I feel like I’m in a constant state of fixing my fixed mindset. This change doesn’t happen overnight. My fixed mindset started very young and has been strongly adhered to my identity. So I’m constantly practicing. I’ve made it a regular rhythm to re-read excerpts of the book and be reminded of the parts of my life that continue to live in the grip of a fixed mindset. So, here are a few tips that help me, and may help you!