By Gabriel Shaughnessy
I was recently reading an article by Sal Khan, creator of the free online school, Khan Academy. It was titled, “Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart.”
When I was a kid, I was a genius. Then again, who wasn’t. Science says that when they test for genius potential, they find it in over 90% of children. As they test in later years, fewer kids still have it. Then again, what does science know.
Anyways, I was killin’ it as a kid. Sports, academics, music, it just worked. I didn’t really think about it, I just seemed to be top of the class in whatever I was doing.
One of my sports was baseball. At the beginning of this one season, as I was getting old enough to be conscious of human error, I took the mound to pitch. In previous years, I just chucked the ball and kids struck out. This year something different happened, these guys were smacking the ball all over the place. I didn’t know what was going on. In the car ride home my Dad was baffled, asking me what happened. I had no idea, and I lay awake for many nights dwelling on it.
This is the earliest I can remember of the emergence of fear and anxiety in my life. I didn’t like not being perfect. How did I respond to the challenge of the batters catching up to my inherent ability to pitch? I buckled, I panicked, I ran. I liked being the best, and my whole life till that point I was untested, I conquered with ease. All of a sudden I wasn’t sure. Maybe I lost it.
I didn’t want to pitch anymore. A few years later I stopped playing baseball altogether.
That fear of failure slowly permeated into all areas of my life and I entered a period of struggle, maybe even suffering – which can be defined as getting something different than you want out of life, During those years, I figured the only way to improve at something was to try harder. After all, they say it takes 10,000 hours of practice and you’ll be a master right? You just have to put in the time. Bullshit.
“You don’t want it enough!” the clueless coaches used to tell us in the hockey dressing room. “You have to want it!!” I do want it, shut up and tell me how to get it. But they didn’t know, and neither did my Dad.
Sal Khan talks about fixed vs. growth mindsets in his article. He encourages his son to struggle with problems, and applauds him when he finds something he fails at. He knows that intelligence, and ability, is not a fixed trait. If you believe otherwise, you will soon be wondering where it went, as I did. Failing doesn’t mean you’re unworthy, it is not something to fear (what I unconsciously learned) it is an opportunity for growth, significantly more growth than success in fact.
Sal Khan stresses that point in his article – you grow more from failure than you do success. So don’t stay too comfortable.
Growth means you become able to do and understand things you previously couldn’t.
I entered a growth mindset in my 2nd year of university when I picked up a book on seducing women. I applied the principles and started getting laid more. Next I read books on people skills and communication, I applied the teachings and my social life flourished, which also helped me get laid more. I then started getting into spirituality, understanding my existence, my relationship with myself and with life around me, and I changed the direction I was heading.
Compare that to fixed mindsets. In the final year of my science degree I told my family I was planning to become an actor. They suggested that I get checked for bi-polar disorder, something my Dad takes drugs for. After all, our family “doesn’t do acting,” or singing, or dancing. We do engineering, law and medicine. We do the system – where you go to school, get a job, have kids for the sake of dinner conversation and then repeat. Think about the benefits package. You must be out of your mind if you think you can break though the matrix. It’s called reality kid. Besides, we don’t want people thinking we’ve got more instability in our genes.
Well that may be your reality, but I don’t believe in genetically inherited mental illness anyways. If you believe you’ve got it, you’ll start to get it. That principle applies for everything – good and bad. I’ve only begun to understand what an amazing tool, and great enemy, your mind can be.
But I’m being dramatic, my family can be quite lovely.
My point is, if the universe isn’t giving you what you want, instead of banging on the door in frustration, look for the knob, and take a minute to think about how you think.