One of the things you quickly learn as an employee at Microsoft is that the company is really big on the idea of a “growth mindset”. This platitude is everywhere — employee training, corporate messaging, employee reviews.
I initially found this messaging quite abrasive. I was allergic to a company preaching about how I should think. In an ironic display of a fixed mindset (the opposite of a growth mindset) I viewed this ulterior mode of thinking as a threat, instead of as the opportunity it is.
It wasn’t until this year that I internalized the true meaning and power of a growth mindset. If you’ll believe it, learning to skate of all things was what opened my mind to the idea of a growth mindset.
I was born and raised in small town Nebraska. My family lived there until I was five at which point we moved to Canada for my Dad’s work. The running joke in my family is that in an alternate universe I would be a Corn Husker linebacker attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
For reasons I can’t explain I never learned to skate growing up. Things must have just never lined up. I was always the kid running around on the ice in his boots when the class went on a skating field trip. As I grew older and more self-conscious, my inability to skate began to morph into my great Canadian shame.
After a decade of being embarrassed about not being able to skate it had become a part of my identity. It sounds dramatic, but, it’s true. I was just the silly American who didn’t know how to skate and who could never learn. That’s just the way it was. That’s just who I was.
In a twist of fate, for the first time in years the outdoor rink by my house was being maintained. A saint of a gentleman from the neighborhood was carefully flooding the rink and keeping the shack open every night. Pristine ice a two minute walk from my house — what a waste!
On the encouragement of my family I made a move that was out of character for me. I bought some skates, laced up, and hit the rink. I was bad. Really bad. But, something happened that I didn’t expect. I had a really good time. So I kept going back to the rink and I started getting better. Although I’m sure the idea that skating would make you a better skater is unsurprising to the reader. Let me assure you that this was surprising to me — the silly American who could never learn to skate.
What started as going to the rink once a week turned into going to the rink every night. I started playing shinny with people from the neighborhood. I started to learn to crossover and skate backwards. I wasn’t very good — nine year olds could still beat me in a 1-1 game of hockey — but I could skate!
My inability to skate had always been a part of my identity. A shameful and unhelpful part of my identity, but, a part of it all the same. I viewed learning to skate as an attack on my identity. Or in other words, my fixed mindset told me that skills are innate and unlearnable. I can’t skate thus I’ll never be able to skate.
Learning to skate has shown me how wrong I was. Who you are can and should change. More importantly just because you don’t know how to do something right now doesn’t mean that you will never be able to do it.
Ever since I’ve learned to skate I’ve been itching to find other areas of my life where a fixed mindset is artificially limiting me. Where is a fixed mindset holding you back?
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