I recently “celebrated” the 10th anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and the sharp fork in the road that led me to give up the stability I had always thrived on. Coincidentally, this anniversary came shortly before the entire world began facing its own health crisis: COVID-19. As I reflect on the last ten years, I can’t help but wonder where I might have ended up if cancer hadn’t shaken me loose from the carefully grooved guardrails I created for my life. I also think about the tools the last ten years have given me to cope with the unprecedented time we are all in.
I know I’m not alone in grappling with change and wishing for more certainty. If you find yourself anxious about all of the life experiences and plans that are being lost or changed because of the coronavirus, I wanted to share the single most important thing that has helped me learn to embrace uncertainty and trust in the road less traveled: adopting a growth mindset.
Adopting A Growth Mindset
Prior to cancer, I spent 30 years trying to control every aspect of my life. Perhaps the most important thing cancer (and my wonderfully supportive psychologist) taught me is that I needed to let go of my lifelong need for perfection and instead adopt a growth mindset.
For those who don’t know, a growth mindset is a psychological trait in which, when individuals have this mindset, they believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Uncovered by professor Carol Dweck, it is a belief that intelligence and ability is malleable. Studies of seventh graders who were taught this mindset and showed how the brain grows with effort had clear increases in math grades when compared to their peers.
So, what does a growth mindset look like in practical terms? For me, it is knowing that who I am is not static and that it’s always possible to evolve—a mindset that has especially helped me as I’ve developed the nonprofit organization A Fresh Chapter over the last seven years. It means that even in challenging times, I can ask myself, “what can this experience teach me?” During this current pandemic, we might feel a lot of pressure to emerge fitter or stronger or wiser in some way, which can feel out of reach when many of us are just trying to get through the day. But, what if we could adopt a growth mindset as a tool to help us stay open to what we might learn or how we might shift our perspective during this time?
Here are a few tips to embrace a growth mindset:
- Surround yourself with mentors. The beautiful thing about a growth mindset is it opens you up to actively seeking out people who have more knowledge or expertise than you do. Since I first had the idea to create A Fresh Chapter, I began to find ways to network with leaders across the industry. I’m sure I asked “stupid questions” along the way, but thankfully I found mentors who saw the vision and wanted to help. Now, more than ever, it’s a great time to reach out to people you admire and respect and schedule a time to connect with them virtually.
- Read voraciously. I will admit that I probably geek out more than most about business and leadership books and even though the pandemic can make it hard to concentrate, I’m trying to take advantage of the extra time I have on the weekends to read. A few of my favorites include Essentialism, a perfect read to help you do less and achieve more; Building A Story Brand, a must-read for anyone exploring how to describe your work to the world and; The Catalyst: How To Change Anyone’s Mind, a fantastic book for leaders looking to strengthen their messaging.
- Surround yourself with fellow growth-seekers. Whether you’re building an organization or getting through a pandemic, it’s important to surround yourself (even if it’s virtually right now) with people who bring positive energy to your life. There is difficult news and hardship everywhere. It’s important to acknowledge these challenges and feel the emotions associated with them, but it’s equally important to focus your energy on what you have the power to change. As our A Fresh Chapter team has grown, we have been very conscious about hiring people with a growth mindset and this team has been an amazing source of support and strength for our community, especially as we all navigate the current uncertainty.
- Be willing to evolve and adapt. Part of adopting a growth mindset means that external circumstances will challenge you to change your perspective or alter your vision and direction. For example, perhaps you have found your income/work affected by the pandemic and you’re faced with needing to reinvent what you do. In Eric Reis’ book, The Lean Start-Up, he introduces the concept of a “Minimum Viable Product.” This was a lightbulb moment for me. It’s not only ok to create something simple and continue to evolve and iterate it, but it’s actually a solid strategy for innovation.
Growth is difficult–and, I’ll admit, even with a growth mindset, I still find myself craving more certainty. But, when I feel out of my depth or overwhelmed, I remind myself of all of the uncertainty I have faced over the past ten years and how it’s made me stronger and more able to adapt to changing circumstances.
One day, I hope we will look back on this pandemic as a time that challenged us to grow and ultimately strengthened our connections and our character. Although we have no control over how or when the current situation will resolve, we have control over how we choose to approach it.