How my Mindset Became my Achilles Heel
Due to the influence of societal norms and mass media, we tend to highlight what makes us different, but at our core, don’t we all want love and acceptance? According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Love and Belonging is third on our list for what motivates us, right below Esteem and Self-actualization. On my journey of finding love and gaining acceptance, I developed a fixed mindset that ultimately became my Achilles’ Heel.
In 2007, Carol Dweck wrote Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, where she divided people into two categories—growth mindset and fixed mindset—to determine how mindset influences motivation, achievement, and interpersonal success.
If someone has a growth mindset, they view their current talents and capabilities as a foundation that can be expanded upon. They are able to see challenges as learning opportunities; understanding that success, failure, and setbacks are a part of the growing process. As a result, individuals that possess a growth mindset are continually placing themselves outside of their comfort zone and pushing their limits, in order to increase their knowledge and broaden their current skill set. They can distance themselves from the outcome of any situation, believing that the results are not a direct reflection of their intelligence, personality, or capabilities.
A person with a fixed mindset considers their current abilities to be set in stone and develop a pattern of needing to prove themselves in school, career, and relationships to show that they are not less than or inadequate. For example, if they believe that they are intelligent when it comes to Math but are incapable of being creative, the individual will continue to strive for accomplishments in Math but avoid areas that require creativity. Individuals with a fixed mindset avoid challenges because they view them as a threat to their persona. Before choosing to approach a situation, a person with a fixed mindset will evaluate their chances at success or failure, acceptance or rejection, and if they will emerge a winner or a loser.
When reading Dweck’s description of a fixed mindset I felt as though she was describing my past self. If I had the opportunity to do so, I would constantly size up every scenario to decide whether the odds were in my favor before choosing to proceed. In circumstances where I had no choice, like an final exam, the amount of stress and fear I felt was comparable to an impending apocalypse. I believed that the results of these experiences mirrored who I was as a person so when I did not perform well or reach the anticipated level of success, instead of just an exam I saw a stack of papers labeled with the words “Not Good Enough.” Due to lack of mental resiliency, I branded myself with every setback, slip up, and failure, believing those outcomes defined me.
Since I did not engage with my failures, I never gave myself the room to grow because I viewed failure as fatal. This mindset led me to plateau early in life and instead of coming to terms with the reason behind it, I pushed myself harder in a desperate attempt to prove that I was not falling behind my peers. The biggest problem (among the many) with my actions was that I was pushing myself in the wrong direction. I ran toward the “sure thing” and avoided challenges at all costs, chaining myself to areas that provided no opportunity for growth.
As I gradually became more and more desperate to prove my worth, my Achilles heel started to cave in. I was a slave to succeeding without growing; it was as if I was trying to blow hot air in a balloon that had run out of gas—the only way I could go was down, but I refused to accept why until I hit the ground with a resounding thud.
Shocking my whole body, I woke up to the fact that I had limited my growth with just the mindset I held. By never allowing myself to go outside of my comfort zone, I created my own glass ceiling.
An opportunity for improvement can only be created when you accept that success is just as likely as failure and place yourself in situations that allow for both possibilities. You may succeed or fail but the focus is no longer on the outcome, but the journey. By developing a growth mindset, you can view every situation, regardless of the outcome, as a learning opportunity rather than a potential threat to your ego. Individuals with a growth mindset are able to understand that the physical outcome of these experiences do not reflect your worth, ability, or are a prediction of your future success.
Take a hammer to that glass ceiling. Do not predetermine your limits but let them grow as you do. Nothing about you has been decided. You truly have the power to do anything that your heart desires—you just have believe.