As some of you probably know, I am finally in the very last semester of my undergrad career. Boy has it been a long, hard, and yet (much to my great surprise) rewarding road. Being near the finish line of this 4 ½ year long pilgrimage, one where I constantly wanted to give up and throw it all out, one where many a night was spent crying and lamenting the simplicity of childhood, which I could never ever gain back, one where I constantly told myself that this is the wrong path for me. I am not cut out for this. It is not ultimately beneficial because I do not have an x,y, then z plan to implement this stupid piece of paper… And so forth.
I am finally near the end of this hellacious period of life where I hated and loathed many a minute, and that has got me thinking.
I want to talk with you briefly about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. Simply, a fixed mindset is one where you assume that the way you are is, wouldn’t you know it, fixed. Your intelligence is a certain level, and cannot be expanded. And, Joe’s magnitude of intelligence is something that happened when the stars aligned and he’s just one lucky son-of-a-gun. How I wish I could be like Joe. But it doesn’t really matter because I can’t change that anyway.
Another trait of a fixed mindset is when you’re in a situation that is similar to a previous experience and you expect the same results, good or bad. Let’s say, for example, you tried to learn guitar in the past. Well, you tried a lot and it was difficult, you didn’t really get it, and eventually you gave up. Geez, what a waste of time. Later, an opportunity to learn Spanish arises. Well, I know myself. I’ll try and it will be hard, but ultimately I just won’t get it either. I would invest lots of time for nothing… Better not pursue this dead end. Similar, but slightly different, is when everyone tells you that you are SUPER good at something.
Take Bea for example. She’s on the track team in high school and she’s fast. Quite fast, in fact. In her division, Bea is one of the fastest, and everyone tells her about it constantly. Her family is proud of her, and that’s good! So they tell her about it. A lot. ‘Oh Bea, you’re just so good at track. You’ll be a star some day.’ And Bea believes it. Later in life, Bea has to move to a new school, where she consequently is no longer the fastest in her division. In fact, there are several other people who are much faster. Poor Bea. Her response is to be angry that this is the case, and to stop caring about track. As this continues, she doesn’t engage in new things, for fear of failure, because all her life she was told she was the best at something when she wasn’t. If everyone else was so wrong about her, how much more wrong will she be?
Growth mindset is when you believe there is an ability of personal change, for the better. You still aren’t very good at guitar, but instead of attributing it to a lack of natural ability, you say it might need more time. Even if you ultimately fail though, you will know you put out the effort and gave it a real try, and you’ll just move on to something else. Growth mindset says that intelligence is learned, and is a way of learning. Bea would not have given up on track, but instead would have accepted that she was not the best, and would have worked to be better. Growth mindset is one of investment.
(So that wasn’t as brief as I thought it would be, but I think we’ll be ok.)
My name is Jalaena, and I struggle with a fixed mindset.
You can see it all over my college career! And life, really. And even once a person realizes it, it is still a very difficult thing to overcome. We all know habits are hard to break, and the way you think is honestly just a very natural, very ingrained, habit. But even so, who am I to say that I am “not cut out for college”? Maybe not, but I know someone who is really good at changing and shaping people so that the very thing they believe they cannot do, is the thing that is most life giving.
Turn to Matthew 25:14-30, The Parable of the Talents. A master imparts three of his servants with talents. (I believe that one talent is equivalent to one man’s twenty years worth of work. …Or maybe it’s a man’s lifetime of work? I am not sure. Regardless, it is worth a lot.) The master gives one servant five talents, another receives two talents, and the final was given one talent. The first two servants invested the talents, and thereby doubled the master’s original givings, and the master was very please.
The poor third servant.
I like to imagine that his internal dialogue was something like this:
‘A talent! Heavens! This is worth more than my own life… How angry the master will be if I were to lose this! I am not wise in the ways of investment, so I best just put it away and keep it safe. My master will be pleased that I did not try to make an investment, which surely would have failed, since I know nothing of the ways of money… Hidden. That is best…’
As we know, the master returns and calls this servant a wicked and slothful man, casting him out into darkness. Knowing what you do about fixed vs. growth, I hope you can see that this is a classic case! The first servants invested their money and were rewarded. The third was afraid of failing and hid it away.
I am the third servant. I dare not truly invest in any one thing for fear of epic failure and/or making it worse in any way. The poor and lowly way I am was ordained by God and I cannot do better. Why oh why didn’t He make me better to begin with?
(Walking along my path, head down in sorrow, my head suddenly slams into an unseen low hanging branch.) Is this fixed mentality congruent with my belief that the Lord is active, cares, and is working in my life and everyone else’s?? No! It is not! If I actually believe what I say I believe, would I not strive to have a growth mindset? Would I not try, even tentatively, to invest in hard and difficult things because I know the Lord can grow me? One would think.
This is a recent revelation that is a great vice. I am working towards trusting the Lord to work in and through me, and part of that means taking action when I would normally say, “I’m not cut out for that”. I humbly present to Him everyday my failure to trust in His goodness and desires for my good. I begrudgingly lay down my fixed (and what I believe oh-so comfy) mindset and say, ‘You and I both know I really don’t want this, but please work on this to help it start running. Please give me the strength and courage to be mindful of my thoughts and to direct them towards growth, and towards you.’
We all ask ourselves ‘Gulp. Which servant am I??’ But that’s not really the point. The point is some invested their talents and were rewarded, while others did not. Some took action, but others only did what they thought they needed to get by.
Looking back on my 4 ½ year pilgrimage, I see my stubborn unwillingness to grow. And yet, I also see the very tangible ways in which I did grow, and am still growing, all of which happened when I never asked for it because I didn’t think I needed it. The Lord is good. I am very excited to see the great things He will do now that I have finally admitted my failings, and have asked for His divine aide. It may take years. It may be something I will have to ask for strength to overcome everyday of my life for the rest of it. For His grace is sufficient, and I must trust this.