Don’t Get Hung Up On Mistakes, Grow Past Them

With a growth mindset, setbacks are simply part of the process of continuous learning and improvement.

By Dennis Yang, CEO, Udemy

Credit: Getty Images

There’s a bit of a mythology around failure in some business circles. Social media is littered with inspirational quotes suggesting you haven’t arrived till you’ve screwed up royally. The process of recovering from a setback is character-building and will leave you better equipped to tackle the next challenge.

And it’s true — in retrospect, we often look back on our big mistakes as our most valuable learning experiences. But it’s a lot easier to find wisdom when you’ve put comfortable distance between yourself and your low point.

The real challenge lies in how you respond in the moment. And that depends on whether you have a so-called growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

Putting things into proper perspective

With a growth mindset, setbacks are simply part of the process of continuous learning and improvement. With a fixed mindset, mistakes are signals that you are inadequate and doomed to be bad at the thing you attempted to do.

The flip side is how these two mindsets interpret success. With a growth mindset, success is a result of working hard and possessing grit and resilience. A fixed mindset, however, attributes success to being innately smart and destined to do well.

When someone with a fixed mindset hits a wall, they can’t deal. What’s the point of trying if you’re just not good at something? This attitude leads to lost confidence and a tendency to shy away from difficult challenges — something life’s full of.

The growth mindset has particular importance for me as the CEO of a company devoted to lifelong learning. It’s something I work to cultivate in myself and that we look for in new hires. We also strive to develop it in all of our employees by helping people learn, not simply judging past performance.

And it’s definitely something we celebrate in our students, most of whom embody the growth mindset when they take it upon themselves to enroll in a course and pursue learning on their own.

Learn to love to learn

These aren’t just buzzwords either. The connection between having a growth mindset and reaching one’s potential has been studied and backed up by science.

It’s simply not productive to think in terms of “bouncing back” after making a mistake. Instead, we all need to take the emotion and self-judgment out of mistakes and view them as steps along a path to our goals. We should understand what happened and learn from it, not see it as evidence of personal weakness or a flaw we need to “fix.”

Learning from setbacks — and seeing the value in that process — will also help you remain viable as the world continues to undergo radical change and the half-life of job skills gets shorter.

Lifelong learners are ideally positioned to compete in an era of rising automation because they actually relish the challenge of reinventing themselves and developing new skills all the time, not only as a reaction to a negative event.

Get out of your rut

The good news is that anyone can develop a growth mindset. Ideally, education from the very earliest stages should nurture the growth mindset in kids, but for those of us who’ve arrived at adulthood with fixed mindsets, it’s never too late.

Of course, it helps if you’re working in an environment that’s supportive, where managers and other leaders understand not only how to give healthy feedback but also why. At Udemy, we do a lot of training to make sure this is clear to everyone. We also conduct “Udemy conversations” continually, not just at some predetermined date on the calendar, so that each individual gets the right kind of input, direction, and guidance whenever they need it, not just a twice-a-year judgment of their work.

If you’re innovating, experimenting, and stretching, you are going to make mistakes. And, therefore, you’ll have to course-correct and reevaluate — but that’s a good thing. The alternative is having a fixed mindset that makes it so uncomfortable to deviate from your preconceived notions, you’ll never get anywhere.

With a growth mindset, you’ll keep looking forward, not back, and be excited to apply lessons learned to future challenges.


Originally published at www.inc.com on January 25, 2017.

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