“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
- Ira Glass
What Ira’s describing here – the belief that crappy beginnings will turn into mastery with enough practice and trial+error – is a “growth mindset.”
Embrace it, and you can watch your confidence, perseverance, and learning ability soar. It will even help you cultivate self-acceptance when you’re starting something new, so you can escape the death grip of perfectionism.
That’s why it’s usually the very first thing I dive into with my confidence or performance coaching clients.
Unfortunately, the growth mindset has an evil alter ego that you need to watch out for: the “fixed mindset.” And it's much, much more common!
A fixed mindset assumes that if your initial product is crappy, then you’re probably just not very good at that kind of thing. (Sound familiar?) Extra work won’t change reality.
Here’s an example. It doesn’t surprise us that we can 10x our athletic performance and mold our bodies if we sweat it out at the gym long enough with a great personal trainer.
But as for things like talent or mental performance? Well, most people think they've either got it or they don’t.
Not so fast. It turns out that cognitive performance can be increased. (And according to Ira, so can creative mastery.)
Dr. Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychology professor who first coined the terms growth and fixed mindset, found that many underperforming children held the belief that they weren’t smart (or “just weren’t good at math,” as I used to tell myself).
But when those same children began believing that learning was a process of trial and error where they could always assume they’d get better over time, the children not only scored better on tests but became more motivated to learn.
Once you start to pay attention to real-life examples of the fixed mindset, you’ll be amazed by how limiting they are … and how they start to sound like excuses:
>>> I couldn’t build a website. I’m a dunce when it comes to technology.
>>> I’d never be able to afford a trip like that! I’m just not a good saver.
>>> I could never write a book. I’m just not disciplined enough.
So next time you’re unsatisfied with your work and tempted to use that as an excuse to stay stuck, give your crappy first efforts some love and remember that they’re what’s getting you closer to the mastery you dream about. Your next tries will be better because of it.
(And usually, it’s really not as bad as you think.)
Here’s to our incredible ability to choose, change and grow,
P.S. What's one area where you'd love to gain mastery? Get the support and accountability your need at the Uncommon Way Community Facebook group. Go ahead - tell us something you commit to working on ... declaring yourself in public has incredible, lasting power! See you there.