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  • Writer's pictureElana

Growth Mindset

I come from a high-achieving family. Just in my immediate family we have doctors (both MDs and a PhD) and a lawyer. Go out one degree of separation and we have more family members with impressive occupations including a (past and current) Olympian! (Go Josh!) It’s amazing to be around such driven, goal-oriented people. And it’s something that made walking away from my “successful” career very difficult a few years ago.

I have always been a firm believer that having a goal and working toward that goal is what leads to success. You have your sights set on where you want to go, and you take the appropriate steps to get there. I fast-tracked through school, participated in co-op programs and climbed my way up corporate ladders to get to where I thought I wanted to be. Except for after a while I realized that it wasn’t where I wanted to be or go anymore. And since then I have struggled to find the “right” next step, the “right” path, the “right” fit. In other words, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist. Shocking with such high-achievers all around me, right? Not so much.

Sometimes it’s hard to just move forward, let alone get everything perfect. When my son Ari was learning to crawl, around 7 months old he started doing the worm on his tummy… backwards. Poor kid was trying to get to a toy and just kept moving himself further and further away from it. Don’t you just feel like “boy, I know how you feel!” Sometimes no matter how hard you try you just can’t move in the right direction. But you keep trying. You keep working at it. And you get there. He eventually figured out how to crawl, walk and now run. Lots of stumbles along the way, lots of setbacks, but you keep going forward. And now he has hit sights set on a toy, toddles his way toward it and by the time he gets there, he has discovered a different toy altogether.

Ari doing the worm

A friend recently introduced me to Carol Dweck (if you haven’t heard of her and are looking to be inspired, watch one of her TED talks). She is one of the world’s leading researchers in “growth mindset”: the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. I am no expert in her studies, but love the idea that you should focus on the “how” instead of the “what”. Or that you shouldn’t focus on what problem you haven’t solved, but what you haven’t solved yet. This mindset helps to relieve the pressure of doing the perfect, “right” thing and opens the whole world of possibilities up as what you might enjoy doing next; what you might enjoy learning more about, or practicing, or challenging yourself with. It is the premise behind why it is important to praise your children for the process, their hard work, their effort, and not simply praise them for being talented or smart (a quality that isn’t in their control).

I recently made a decision to pursue a step toward a new chapter in my own life (to be announced at a later date) and in researching my options, my husband asked, “what is your end goal?” to which I answered, “I don’t know, it’s just something I am really excited to learn more about and spend my time doing”. I’m so proud to have that be my answer! There is no perfect or one “right” answer. So I might as well do something I want to do and trust that it will lead me somewhere I want to be.

In my past life at Microsoft, during career planning time, one of my amazing mentors gave me some great advice which I don’t think I really understood until now. I was fretting about what next 3 possible jobs I should be inputting into the career planning tool and she said “what if you don’t have the next step planned out, but you remain open to possibilities and go with what feels right?” What an incredibly flakey thing that sounded like to past me. What felt right? How would I know what felt right? What metrics could I measure that feeling against? Fast forward to the present and I am realizing how enlightened she was/is and how lucky I was to have her guiding me toward a better version of myself . Adopting this mindset, it’s less about finding the concrete “right” answer (because then anything other than that is not right and therefore not worth trying), and more about practicing, building skills and gaining intelligence in order to take on something that is challenging. Investing in yourself. And there are different ways to measure success than a promotion, a high-paying job, or a gold medal. Those things are all wonderful achievements, but there are also other emotional and spiritual goals that are hard to measure and worthwhile to pursue.

Don’t get me wrong, my cousin would not have gotten to the Olympics (twice) if he didn’t have big goals and amazing determination to achieve them. He has had to train hard and make huge sacrifices to get to realize his dream of competing in Beach Volleyball at the Olympics. And I’m sure he’d be thrilled with a medal (and we all would be so thrilled for him!), but I would like to think that along the way he feels like he’s doing what he loves, learning and improving in the meantime.

After their first match in Rio on Saturday, Josh and his partner Sam were interviewed and he said something amazing, that I wouldn’t expect to hear from an elite athlete:

“You don’t need to be the tallest or the fastest…you can be smarter and that’s the best part of it because you can train your brain no matter what… don’t let your perceived limitations stop you ’cause they really just are your own perceptions.” – Josh Binstock, “Team Canada” live interview on Facebook

Given the Olympics are on right now, it’s easy to get hung up on how many medals we’ve gotten or who “wins” their respective sport. I hope that every athlete feels that they are a better version of themselves now than when they started. I hope that they are inspired to continue to learn and grow after this event is over. I hope that their ability to surpass their own perceived limitations is inspiring to everyone watching. And I hope that they are super proud of themselves.


(Gotta run… next match starts in 5 minutes!)

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