I am not very good with failure. My instinct after a failure is to
Most of us grow up with a fixed mindset, instilled in us by our well-meaning caretakers. We hear that we are so smart and beautiful and talented. We get praised for our grades or our drawings or achievements in sport. Our parents and teachers try to encourage us by praising all of our positive attributes and successes. Although this sounds kind in theory, in reality, the praising of outcomes and attributes creates a fixed mindset. As a result of the fixed mindset, we start thinking about ourselves as static beings. I am smart. I am good at sports. Or I am a talented writer.
Fixed, or broken?
Although these thoughts about ourselves might be true, they are not helping us. By creating a static mindset in childhood, we often lack the mental resources in adulthood to deal with hardships and embrace failure. Let’s say you are really smart. You have always obtained good grades with ease and have been praised your entire life for your academic achievements. When you graduate, you feel pretty stocked about your future. But once you start applying to jobs, you keep getting rejected. You quickly learn – you are smart after all – that recruiters are not only looking for good grades, but also for soft skills, such as confidence, leadership skills and time management. You feel defeated, because in your fixed
Let’s contrast this with a child who has been raised with a growth mindset. In this parenting technique, children aren’t praised for their attributes and outcomes, they are praised for their efforts. “That is such a beautiful drawing. You are so talented.” becomes “Good job. I can see you have worked really hard on that drawing.” By praising effort and resourcefulness, a child creates a growth mindset. When a child is not doing well at school, a parent will encourage the child to find a way to make it work. When a child is doing well at school, a parent will encourage the child to find something that is a bigger challenge for the child. This way, the child is always looking for new challenges to overcome and learn from. It is not hard to see how a person who has developed a growth mindset during childhood sees a job rejection as just another challenge to overcome on their way to achieving their goals. No biggie.
Detach failure from self-worth
If you have grown up with parents who instilled a growth mindset in you, then congratulations. You probably don’t need much help embracing failure. But what about the rest of us? The ones for whom failure and rejection leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. How do we learn to embrace failure? The first and most important thing is that we need to detach failure from our self-worth. When you grow up hearing praise that is directly linked to your sense of self – you are smart, you are talented -, failure can seem like an attack on that inflated sense of self. But guess what? You are not stupid because you didn’t get the job. You are not bad at writing because you didn’t get that book deal. By detaching failure from our self-worth we can more easily learn and grow from the obstacle in our path.
My journey with failure
Recently, I pitched a story to a magazine that got rejected. Immediately, I got down on myself and thought of this as a sign that I should not pursue writing any further. But then I remembered what I had learned about the growth mindset. I remembered to embrace the failure by detaching it from my self-worth. Not getting one gig doesn’t mean I am a bad writer. I can learn from this experience by asking for feedback from the editor and examining my work. This way I can improve my writing, both generally and when tailoring my writing to that specific magazine. Learning to embrace failure is not easy – particularly with a stubbornly fixed mindset from childhood -, but when practiced enough can become a helpful tool in overcoming obstacles and challenges in your life.
What is one failure you have learned to embrace?