I’m currently reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s a book we’ve had in the house for several years now and I kept telling myself I’m going to make time to read it. I started reading it last year but stopped. Recently, I dusted it off again and am almost finished. Unfortunately, I do that often. Unless I’m reading a novel that I just can’t put down, I get distracted by life and I forget that I started a non-fiction book like this until someone reminds me. In this case, it was Bill Gates. OK, not him personally. It was on Entrepreneur.com’s 20 Books Billionaire Bill Gates Recommends this past May. So indirectly.
If you haven’t read the book, Dweck explores how having a fixed versus a growth mindset impacts various aspects of our life – learning, vocation, sports, relationships, etc. She takes various studies she’s conducted as well as those of colleagues in her field to support her claim that having a growth mindset is a much healthier and productive approach to life and achievement than having a fixed mindset.
I don’t think it’s possible to read this book and not evaluate what type of mindset you have. As I’ve read the book, I’ve pondered how I got to where I am in the mindset universe – and how that has impacted my kids’ mindsets. I thought a lot about my own upbringing. Without expanding on this for the sake of not being written out of any family wills or trusts, what I realized in reading this book is that I very much grew up in the culture that Dweck describes as valuing natural talent above hard work. And how when we say something seemingly innocuous like, “You’re so smart!” to our children when they do something well, it sends them the message that they did it well because they’re smart – and not because they worked hard. So the next time they try for something and don’t get it right, instead of feeling like they need to work harder, they start to believe they’re not smart and they stop trying. Because they don’t want to feel dumb. They don’t want to fail. Repeat until you’ve got a naturally talented, under-accomplished adult.
In Margaret’s early childhood, I admittedly fell into this bad pattern of praising her for her God-given talent rather than her effort level. (Thanks, Carol Dweck, for waiting until 2006 to publish your book!). But I must have eventually read something that discussed the long-term problem of praising natural talent over effort because I course corrected as Margaret got older. And I think it has really made a difference. Just this week Margaret was put to the test. And apparently so was I.
On Friday, Margaret learned that she did not get cast in a musical she auditioned for at school. It’s an arts school and her conservatory has a lot of female competition for roles. Margaret has blogged before about how much she loves to perform and was excited to potentially be part of this show. She was called back for two roles for which it appeared she was being seriously considered. I could see her excelling in either role. In the end, she was not cast in either of them. And despite being a very strong singer and a dancer, she wasn’t even cast as ensemble, which she would have been thrilled to be part of as well.
She texted me to give me the bad news. I texted her back, “You win some, you lose some.” My initial reaction was that of relief. Selfishly, I was not looking forward to the chaos that shows wreak on our lives when she’s rehearsing all the time. And there will be other shows.
This time, we’d made her indicate on the conflict sheet upfront that she has an ongoing weekly conflict due to her Krav Maga (Israeli self-defense) classes. She’d missed almost all her classes when she was cast in the last few shows at school and we didn’t want that to happen again. We’re trying to focus on her next belt level and missing so much Krav Maga would prohibit that. (I’ve blogged previously about how Krav Maga is a priority for us as a family.) At the final call back, the director told her that any ongoing conflict would be untenable. So she knew the odds were against her. But she gave it her all anyway, hoping she still had a chance.
When I picked her up after school, she was disappointed she didn’t get in, but genuinely excited for her friends who got into the show. No anger, no resentment.
I on the other hand, had had some time to ponder the situation and by the time I saw her I was really annoyed. At first, I felt like it was my husband’s and my fault – that we’d inadvertently set her up for failure because she was up against others who likely performed just as well and had no conflicts. But then I focused on how crappy it was for the director not to have told the students from the get go that if they had too many conflicts, they wouldn’t be seriously considered. Not at the 11th hour, after students like Margaret thought they really stood a chance. It certainty could have saved us a few days of auditioning and all the time and preparation that goes with it. No matter how messed up that was, I definitely see now that I wanted to place blame on someone other than me. Of course, there’s the real possibility that she got beat out because the others really did a better job auditioning for those parts. But of course, in my anger, I dismissed THAT idea and kept focusing on how she would have rocked either of the roles she was up for just as much, if not more, than the students who were cast in them. And that it was unfair. And being me, I did what I do well. I bitched and moaned about this for a few miles. Until she told me to stop being so immature. She immediately went into adult-mode because I had regressed into toddler mode. Yes, I hit an all-new low in parenting.
I was quiet the remainder of the ride home (not easy for me) when lo and behold, good ol’ Carol Dweck’s book came to mind. I realized how my reaction was of the fixed minded and not the growth mindset. Rather than focusing on how much effort she put into getting into the show, what a great experience it is for her to audition and put herself out there regardless of the end result, and most importantly, how mature it was for her to not be jealous but rather happy that some of her close friends got cast in the roles she’d wanted, I focused on the wrong thing: the outcome. When really, I should have been focusing on guiding her to get feedback on her audition and how she can improve the next time.
So last night, I did a few things: 1) Apologized to Margaret for having behaved like a jerk 2) Congratulated her for not letting a rejection define who she is and 3) Promised myself I would finish Mindset – this weekend.
Happy Labor Day Weekend!