How A “Growth Mindset” Contributes to Success

…On Remote Year, in Relationships & Probably Life In General

One question I get asked often by friends, potential business “clients” and Remote Year applicants is what profile of people we typically look for on our programs. Over time and lots of practice, I’ve gotten better at answering this question, which usually ends up sounding something like, “Well, the composition of our participants are made up of 30+ nationalities, vary in age from 20+ to 60+, and come from various fields of work ranging from tech, biz dev, marketing, design, law, finance and more. The majority are full-timers, but we have plenty of freelancers and entrepreneurs, too. We’re very intentional about getting a unique mix of people together. After all, we don’t just preach diversity, we’re living it everyday.”

(I’m pretty proud of that little elevator pitch, by the way.)

But, that really only answers half of the question — the quantitative half, which is great if you’re the rational type who makes decisions based on hard facts, data and numbers (aka not me, yet). This answer also doesn’t shed any light on what I think makes Remote Year such a uniquely wonderful experience (aka our biggest value add), which is our community of people.

photo by Aleksander Jason

Under any other circumstance, if you stuck a 20-year-old from the US suburbs in a room with a 60-year-old from Siberia (assuming both spoke English), they’d likely exchange a few lines of courtesy small talk, trade a few interesting stories, and upon exiting the room, the relationship would come to an end. Sadly, this is how most of my own social interactions goes these days. (I know I can make more of an effort in tending to these type of relationships, but, well, LIFE.)

Relationships, whether platonic or romantic, take time and effort (more so if it’s the latter). They need a shit ton of nurturing, and I’ve definitely experienced the scarcity of time and how quickly it passes as I’ve grown older, forcing me to prioritize and pick-and-choose who I spend our time with and how. The trap is becoming so selective of who and what I like and am comfortable with that it doesn’t leave a ton of room for growth (or magic!) to happen. It’s one of the polarities of humanity — wanting both comfort and familiarity, and adventure and novelty, and a life-long attempt at striking the right balance between the two.

(Tangent: this is not unlike the targeted everything you see these days on Facebook and Google, which bombards you with crap it knows you’ll like and your world starts to feel smaller and smaller).

Making new friends and nurturing those relationships was (at least for me) a lot easier when I was in school, where proximity and convenience paved the way to a breeding ground of relationships and community. But those two factors alone aren’t enough to hold a group of people (or systems) together. There’s an underlying, invisible glue that binds people to each other and creates what we call a community. It can be lifestyle choices, diets, religion, political beliefs, or a shared goal or vision for the future. Call it what you want, but for the sake of this entry, I’m calling it a shared mindset.

photo by Marcus Spiske

Remote Year offers proximity and convenience to 75 strangers who come together to work, live, and travel for a year, and as you can imagine, all kinds of relationships are cultivated. But people don’t get to pick-and-choose who they’re spending the year with (for the most part), so how is it that these groups of strangers who come from such different backgrounds are able to come together and manifest such strong communities?

Part of it is situational, of course, but I think what makes the glue so sticky is this shared growth mindset. This is the more qualitative, behavioral piece that we look for in the individuals coming onto our programs.

Some time ago (as a victim of the targeted everything on the Internet), I came across three similar articles a few days apart from each other, two of them by my favorite bloggers — Maria Popova of Brain Pickings and Shane Parrish of Farnam Street, and they spoke to the concept of fixed vs. growth mindsets based on new research by Dr. Carol Dweck, who wrote an entire book about it called Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success.

The third article was on Thought Catalog and had a catchy title —This is Why You Can’t Get Over Your Breakup According to Science. Relationships, Psychology and Science? Well done, Facebook; victim, acquired. But that article referenced the same research by Dr. Dweck on mindsets.

I’ll spare you my attempt at explaining what these mindset thingamajigs are, mainly because Maria Popova has already done such a wonderful job expounding it here:

One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, Dweck found in her research, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality. A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities…
At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.

And no one says it better than Dr. Dweck herself:

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.
In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.
In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.
photo by Wayne Robinson

And so, as we like to say at Remote Year, a year is a long time in the life of a human. Whether you’re traveling with Remote Year or hiding in a corner trying to shelter yourself from the rest of the world, sh*tty things are going to happen, because, well, LIFE. People will be tested on their failures, rejections, heartbreaks and losses, and that’s why it’s so crucial for us to bring together people who will deal with those challenges head on and learn from it, rather than assigning blame and letting it define them.

One thing that’s for certain is that the people who embark on our programs are people who have (or aspire to have) a “growth mindset.” They are the individuals who believe in stretching themselves with occasional bouts of Level 3 fun. This mindset is the invisible glue that binds the Suburbian-American 20-year-old to the Siberian 60-year-old.

Then, add in two parts proximity and one part convenience, and you have the magic recipe for what makes a uniquely wonderful community of people.


I highly, highly recommend reading the following articles in their entirety: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives by Maria Popova and Carol Dweck: The Two Mindsets And The Power of Believing That You Can Improve by Shane Parrish

Additionally, here’s a TED talk by the original gangster herself, Dr. Carol Dwek:

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