How a growth mindset can redefine your career

7 min read
Alan Taylor

Some people seem to cruise through their careers, hitting or exceeding all their goals. They also seem to be able to switch and follow different pathways easily. Others seem to struggle, get stuck in a job or career they hate and stay there for life. What's the difference between these two types of people? It could just be that one has a growth mindset and the other a fixed mindset.

Careers can sometimes take an unplanned path.

A mindset is our core belief about ourselves and our abilities. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck explains how our mindsets can hold us back or push us forward:

"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."

Related: Time for a career change? Here are 8 ways to make the switch

The fixed mindset

Growth Mindset Caged Staircase
If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your skills and growth are limited.

When your mindset is fixed, you feel that you are all you can be now. You don't strive to move higher in an organisation. You're either content or miserable to stay in the same position unless something dramatic causes you to move.

You might label others who move past you as the 'talented ones.'

Yet these 'talented ones' might not be talented at all. They could have less education than you or less experience. But what they do have is a growth mindset.

Mindsets can be fixed from a young age. People can make assumptions about your intelligence or abilities and vocalise them.

I was told I was 'stupid' in primary school and had a fixed mindset for a long time as a result. In the first two weeks of high school, my maths teacher stood me up in front of the class as an example of stupidity.

I was told I should leave school in year 10 because going on further would be a waste of money. So I left and took up a trade making signs. I loved it, and I was good at it. And for 10 years, I was content with no intention of leaving.

Because a fixed mindset is comfortable where it is. There's no chance of failure if you don't try something new.

Related: 9 small business ideas you can start at home

The growth mindset

The growth mindset loves a challenge. It looks for ways to improve. It believes it can develop intelligence with effort. It sees challenges as learning experiences.

Those with a success mindset don’t believe intelligence is static.

Carol mentions in her book that she gave difficult problems to 10-year-olds and was surprised by their reactions.

"Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning," she reports.

The growth mindset doesn't say "I can't." Rather, it says, "I'm not able to do it now, but I will if I take the time to learn."

How I stumbled on a new path

Computers made an entrance into sign-making in the 1990s. And the problem with computers at the time was they kept breaking down. So I tried working out how to fix them. Just the basics. Then I found a copy of Microsoft Windows and installed it.

I was enthralled. And my mindset changed.

The growth mindset can create pathways to success

Growth Mindset Fireworks Display
You can increase your chances of success by simply changing your mind.

When you embrace the fact that you are more than you think, you start seeing opportunities you never saw before. You begin to think about your career path, the things you like about it and the things you want to change. Some consider changing careers altogether!

I did. I could stay in the sign shop, going nowhere, or I could set a goal. So, at the start of 1996, I wrote on a piece of paper that I was going to change careers within the year.

But I couldn't wait.

I sent my resume to 20 recruiters and landed a job in IT at IBM within two months.

People in the sign shop said I wouldn't make it there, but I didn't listen. I knew where I wanted to go — and I stayed at IBM for 10 years. That's the beauty of a growth mindset. It doesn't listen when it hears negative words. It forges ahead to continual improvement.

Carol Dweck writes, "Test scores and measures of achievement tell you where a student is, but they don’t tell you where a student could end up."

And that is true for everybody.

Related: Business name ideas: how to pick one that sticks

Breaking free of the fixed mindset

When you realise you have a fixed mindset and it's keeping you in a job you no longer love, it can be hard to change it. But it's not impossible.

It takes effort at the start, but it gets easier as your mindset starts changing.

"You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind," says Dr. Dweck.

So how do you start changing from a fixed mindset to a success mindset in the workplace?

Make a decision to change your self-belief

Stop saying, "I can't" or "I'm not," and start saying, "With effort, I can achieve …" Monitor how you speak to yourself, and how you speak with others.

Step to the front of the line

Instead of hiding when someone in the office asks your team for help, put your hand up. You'll break out of your comfort zone, learn something new and increase your confidence.

Study change

Learn about the brain and how learning new things creates new pathways. This doesn't just work for some people. This works for everyone — including you!

Ask for feedback

Growth Mindset Two Men Talking
People who know you have good advice to give. Act on it.

Honest feedback can be painful, but it's one of the best ways to improve yourself. Don't concern yourself if it's delivered critically; just focus on the message.

Change how you think about failure

Failure will always be with us whenever we try something new. But do we need to think of it as failure? Why not look at it as how not to do something, while we continue searching for a better way?

Find new ways of doing menial tasks and share them with others

Every job has menial tasks; housekeeping that keeps the business running. Learn new ways of doing things and share them with others. People will notice, and the appreciation will spur you on to greater things.

Encourage others in their endeavours

Remember the ‘talented ones?’ They have doubt about their abilities too. Encourage them, become their cheerleader. It will open your mind to your own possibilities. Not only that, you could realise you have the gifts of mentoring.

Never forget, your mind is powerful and the fixed mindset is capable of holding you back. It's to your advantage in life, love and career to not let it. The fixed mindset:

  • Fears failure.
  • Doesn't have any goals.
  • Is in constant need of proving itself for praise.

The fixed mindset hides its deficiencies instead of overcoming them. It does not desire growth. Its possibilities are limited.

A growth mindset can take you there

With the growth mindset, people believe dedication and hard work can develop abilities, no matter how little talent they have. They look on challenges as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Those with a growth mindset don’t worry about failure, because the bumps are what they climb on.

If you want to boost your career or even switch career paths altogether, then the growth mindset can take you there. It's going to take a conscious effort, but try looking ahead. And if changing too much seems overwhelming, just start by looking at everything as a learning experience.

So, go on, forge new connections in your brain. Change your mindset. After all, why should you just be, when you can become?