Was there a moment I missed? A time when we clicked over to full-on entitlement expectations — pivoting from more reasonable, responsible reactions? No need to answer. I know there’s ‘no moment’. Each person handles stress and disappointment uniquely and while some are more inclined to address perceived transgressions from an external locus of control (bad stuff happens because the universe, my neighbor, my loved one, my co-worker plots my demise) versus the more evolved and self-aware sensibility that an internal locus of control speaks to (what might I have done differently, how might I react better, choose better).
My dad often said, “Life isn’t about the shit that happens to you, it’s how you move on and learn, cause the shit – it’s coming.” Not the most eloquent of my dad’s witticisms, but it’s one that’s stuck with me just the same.
Last week I met with a career counseling client (“Lacey”) who demonstrates excellent self-awareness and a capacity to improve. To say that she has a growth mindset is an understatement. Carol Dweck – the fabulous researcher and author of the original book on growth vs. fixed mindset – would be proud of her, I think.
Throughout my career, I’ve relied on trusted tools to help we, the stuck and struggling find our way to higher ground, a place where propulsion and purpose await. Dweck’s book has been a frequent bit of ‘required reading’ for those I care about – professionally and personally. Why? Her landmark work on growth vs. fixed mindset provides a potent starting point to recognize the agency and opportunity each individual can claim. A growth-oriented perspective can bolster confidence and belief in our own potential. A fixed mindset? I don’t believe I can change, therefore I won’t try.
I’ve repeated wisdom from Dr. Dweck often to clients and students, especially these nuggets:
- Believing talent can be developed allows people to fulfill their potential.
- A growth mindset allows people to love what they do – and more importantly, continue to love it when challenges and disappointments arrive.
- Growth-minded people aren’t always the most deliberate about their own success. They achieve because they DO what they love. Which is funny/ironic. Fixed mindset folks want the success (sometimes without effort) but often struggle to achieve because they can lack enthusiasm and may be less motivated.
- Said another way, it’s important to love what you do and remain open to growth and learning to improve and excel. I adore similar wisdom from Jung:
“What did you do as a child that made hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key your earthly pursuits.”
In part, those are the qualities “Lacey” demonstrated when I met with her last week. She knows she’s in the right profession. She works hard, runs into snafus here and there, but her heart’s engaged, and she’s locked into her chosen field, unable to imagine doing anything else. Still, her life is not perfect, but she recognizes that she has the capacity to improve and is focused on action-oriented steps to achieve her goals and improve her relationships, both at work and at home.
As I wrote up my notes from meeting with “Lacey”, I remembered a client (“Joshua”) from a few years ago who struggled with some of the same workplace challenges as “Lacey” but his fixed mindset made it nearly impossible for me to assist him. Each session was chock-full of complaints about the mismanagement he was subjected to, despite his perception that he was ‘far more brilliant than his boss will ever be”. Passed over for promotions not once, but twice, he surmised a conspiracy plan had been hatched to elevate a peer who “kissed up” to the boss (not just figuratively, but I learned later, he rumor mongered about an inappropriate office relationship).
“Joshua” was reckless and driven but based on my close listening of his rants, if he’d devoted ½ of his effort and energy toward his job, vs. the smear campaign he alleged, he might’ve distinguished himself as worthy of a promotion. Or at least continued employment. My gut told me he was his own worst enemy, but I sensed he was also in a field ill-suited for his interests and skills, but exploring those aspects took a backseat because “Joshua” was in trouble.
I don’t enjoy meeting clients when they’re in high escalation mode, but it happens. “Joshua” was reprimanded by his boss for sending a scathing email to a customer. From what “Joshua” shared, most in his department agreed that the customer was a horror to deal with, but he failed to restrain himself and referred to the account executive/customer as a ‘bastard’. In writing. Joshua tried to smooth things over by saying it was a typo (which was laughable) and dug a hole for himself. Deeper and deeper.
By the time I caught up with “Joshua”, he was on a two-week suspension, continuing to rant about being ‘done wrong’ and every time I tried to nudge him forward to see if he might take responsibility, he’d cut me off. My mind wandered as I wondered…maybe he wanted to get fired? But I needed to stay in my lane. “Joshua” didn’t ask for my help about long-term career exploration, job satisfaction…heck…life satisfaction. He wanted help with an email. He’d drafted (not kidding) yet another obnoxious email that he wanted to send to his boss, and HE SAID his intention was to apologize…wanted my help with wording and polishing.
I DO do that sort of work for clients – resumes, cover letters, prep for interviews – but I don’t think I’d ever been asked to edit (scratch that – rewrite) an apology. When I took a look at what “Joshua” had written, my first thought was flamethrower. Ouch and overkill…coming in hot…way too hot. I scanned and skimmed what he’d drafted and there was nary a word of recompense. His draft was more a list of demands to ensure a smooth re-entry, as soon as his suspension was over.
Did I help him? Yes. I wrote a more conciliatory version of his email only after he acquiesced (to me) and said he really did want to return to work but he was concerned about specific issues (loss of status, his parking spot, his preferred cubicle). I pointed out that I saw no words of regret and his only comment was “Oh yeah, yeah – I’ll add that.” I tried to highlight the larger concerns, my misgivings about his approach in total but he wanted none of what I served up.
I didn’t hear from “Joshua” again and I’m sure it was because he thought I was a lousy proofreader. 😉 Maybe so. But if he had let me, I would’ve explored his fixed mindset in order to gently challenge his functional belief that things were stacked against him, rendering him helpless in the face of others’ misguided views of his talents.
I imagined what my dad might say if I’d shared the contrasting stories of “Lacey” and “Joshua” with him. Dad died before Dr. Dweck wrote about ‘mindset’, but I suspect he would’ve had equally resonant wisdom, given his years as a talented leader. Maybe his wisdom would be this: “You can’t help those who don’t wanna help themselves.” Maybe so. I love it when bits of him trickle in.
Thanks for reading…thanks for letting me share.
Leave a Reply