Career Advice Professional Development

Growth Mindset For Professional Success

Dora Segall
By: Dora Segall
Sep 23, 2020 • 7 min read

What is a growth mindset, and why is it important for professional success?

A positive attitude can make or break your career. While a can-do mentality pushes us to work hard and overcome setbacks, a sense of helplessness might cause us to give up the minute we encounter obstacles. Now is a time when a growth mindset is incredibly important — and challenging to maintain. Let’s go over what a growth mindset is, why it matters in a professional context, and how to cultivate it in your own work.

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What is a growth mindset?

According to Psychology Today, a growth mindset is the belief that effort and work can contribute to self-improvement over time. It is the opposite of a fixed mindset, in which talent and ability are set in stone. So how does this operate in the workplace?

Example

Let’s use an example. Say you have two coworkers, Skyler and Cameron. Skyler has a fixed mindset, while Cameron has a growth mindset. Both employees give presentations at work, and neither presentation goes well. Their teammates seem confused and unconvinced by their ideas. Skyler and Cameron are unable to anticipate and respond thoroughly to questions after they present. They are both embarrassed by their performance, but their responses to that embarrassment are entirely different.

Syler Discouraged

Skyler is completely discouraged. “I knew I was bad at giving presentations,” she says to you. “I’m never volunteering for something like that again.” Over the next few months, Skyler avoids any opportunity to give another presentation. She happens to be busy whenever your boss asks if someone from your team can present your latest work, and she always recommends someone else when directly asked to present. Cameron, on the other hand, is determined to give another presentation as soon as possible. “I could’ve done better,” he says. “I was just nervous, and I didn’t put enough work into preparing.”

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Cameron seeks Improvement

A month later, Cameron volunteers for another presentation during a meeting. He spends the coming week perfecting his visual aid and talking points, especially the ones he feels shaky on. His next presentation isn’t perfect, but it goes pretty well. He explains all his ideas thoroughly and clearly but still has some trouble answering coworkers’ questions. The next month, however, he gives an even better presentation. After a few months of this, he’s nailed his presentation skills.

Growth vs. fixed

So what does this example teach us about growth versus fixed mindset? In the first scenario, Skyler uses her unsuccessful presentation to validate her belief that she is a lousy presenter by default. In applying this fixed label to herself, she is discounting the possibility that she could get better with practice. Cameron, on the other hand, uses a growth mindset to identify the skills he needs to develop. He then works on those skills and ultimately becomes an effective presenter.

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Attitude

Psychology Today says that the key differences between a growth and fixed mindset are effort, response to challenges, and attitude towards failure. Whereas Cameron seeks out the challenge of a second presentation, Skyler shies away from it because she cannot recognize the potential for hard work to help her learn from her previous mistakes.

Why does growth mindset matter?

Whereas a fixed mindset causes us to give up on ourselves, a growth mindset enables us to, well, grow. Employees with a fixed mindset settle for mediocre jobs because they think that it’s all they deserve. Employees with a growth mindset, on the other hand, always strive for self-improvement. Whether you want to be a high school English teacher or CEO of a huge corporation, a growth mindset is the first step to living the life you want to live.

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Consider this

Let’s say that your boss is looking to promote someone on your team. He’s considering both Skyler and Cameron. He wants someone who can successfully pitch your company’s services to potential clients. He notes that Cameron gives frequent and successful presentations, so he chooses him. Skyler seems disappointed but relieved. “I’m just glad I don’t have to present to even more people,” she says. Who do you want to be in this scenario? If you’re hoping to work your way up the professional ladder, chances are that it’s Cameron. After all, who wants to feel like a crappy presenter when they know they can become a skilled one? And it doesn’t hurt that self-improvement leads to a raise in this case, too.

The key to thriving

A growth mindset is key to thriving in the workplace. Though you might be able to get by sticking to what you know you’re good at, working to improve your weaker skills will give you the competitive edge necessary to become really good at what you do.

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How to cultivate a growth mindset

If you find that you tend towards a fixed mindset, change will require work. Luckily, just putting in that work is the main difference between a growth and fixed mindset. If you’re actively trying to shift your perspective, you’re already halfway there!

Here are some tips for approaching workplace challenges with a growth mindset:

Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.

If you struggle with a fixed mindset, you may find yourself blaming your mistakes on others — “I was late getting the report in because my boss gave me too much to do this week” or “It’s Dan’s fault that I miscalculated our budget for our conference, he didn’t tell me we’d have to buy new coffee cups.” While it’s true that working in a team does mean that the shortcomings of others will impact your own job every now and then, this doesn’t mean you can absolve yourself of fault for everything. Nobody is perfect, so it might just be that you need to work on your time management or calculation skills. According to a Forbes article, accepting your imperfections is the first step to overcoming them.

Embrace challenges

As long as you aren’t being overworked or asked to do something that you know is wrong, unfamiliar or especially difficult work assignments can be an excellent opportunity to foster new professional skills and strengthen the ones you already have but don’t use much. Employees with a growth mindset not only welcome challenging tasks but seek them out. These are the opportunities that allow them to develop as professionals and make their way up in the working world.

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Keep learning

So next time you find that your boss wants you to set up a Zoom conference, don’t freak out because you have no idea how to host a Zoom meeting. Instead, do some research and use trial and error to determine the best way to schedule the event before sending out an invite. It’s okay that you’re “not a tech guy,” and you don’t have to become one — but you’ll thank yourself for learning some necessary skills rather than getting out of your boss’s request and having to avoid other video conferencing responsibilities later on.

Handle criticism constructively

No one likes to hear their boss say they did a bad job on something. But beating yourself up about it will just make you feel worse. Instead of throwing your hands up in the air or thinking, “She’s right, I am sloppy when it comes to expense reports,” take the criticism you receive as an opportunity for improvement. Although it can hurt, a critical comment is refreshing if you think about it as a rare moment of truth. Wouldn’t you rather hear what you did wrong instead of just getting a terrifying frown from your boss when they look over a project you’ve handed in?

red brick wall with live, work, create. quote

Be your own critic

On the other hand, the pure enjoyment of your work is more important than the approval you get from others. If a coworker jokes that it’s a good thing you’re book smart because you sure aren’t book smart, or something of that nature, say something or brush it off. Specific criticism, delivered when it’s appropriate, such as from a boss during an evaluation or from a coworker when you ask for help, makes sense. But if someone in the workplace is simply taking an uncalled for dig at your character, don’t let it get to you. You can report more serious verbal harassment in the workplace. On the other end of the spectrum, do not ignore your inner voice if your boss seems happy with your work, but you feel that you could do better. Your ambition will get you far!

Specific criticism

A more mundane issue is specific criticism that doesn’t quite hit the target. For instance, you might be an extrovert in your daily life, but your boss says you’ve been too quiet in meetings. Perhaps you have just been tired. The best response in these situations is to incorporate balance the criticism with your own knowledge — you know yourself better than anyone else. It’s still useful to see how your weak spots are coming across to others. It might help you gain a better awareness of yourself. It also might be helpful to clarify to your supervisor what is actually going on if they do give an off-the-mark criticism. For instance, “Sorry if I seem like I’m zoning out — I’ve actually just been exhausted lately because I’ve been spending a ton of time on x project.” This may be illuminating for your boss and help you gain strategies for achieving a more well-rounded and efficient work performance.

Set goals for yourself

What do you ultimately want to get out of your job? What do you want to achieve? These are big questions that can help you implement a growth mindset. Once you know where you want to be, you can make more productive use of where you are now. It is important to stay flexible as you seek to achieve your goals. You will probably need to work on a few tasks that you find unenjoyable or particularly difficult on your path to success. You might even find your professional goals changing as you realize that you do not enjoy the nuts and bolts of your dream job as much as you thought you did. That’s okay — our interests change and develop over time. Just think thoroughly about what you want and why before changing plans — you might just need to get through some grunt work to get where you actually want to be.

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Censor yourself

You’ve heard of words of affirmation. Try taking that the next level by giving yourself THOUGHTS of affirmation. It might feel kind of silly at first, but you are your own best motivator. If you, like Cameron or Skyler, botched up an important presentation, stop yourself as soon as you think something like, “That was terrible, I can’t believe I even got this job in the first place.” Instead, pinpoint what in particular went poorly. Make sure to note what you did well, too. This will help you keep your self-critique constructive and at least a little bit positive so you can learn from your mistakes instead of discouraging yourself from a second, third, or even fourth try.

Enjoy the process

You know that expression “it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters”? This 100% applies to any professional path. If you see your career as a series of milestones rather than a continuous process, you will lose sight of the work, taking up most of your day-to-day life. Enjoy the months of prep before an annual conference as well as the conference itself! You’ll probably learn a lot of exciting information from the preparations and research you do if you let yourself. A job is like an iceberg — outsiders usually see only the end product, but there’s so much going on behind the scenes. Being process-oriented will help you embrace all aspects of your job and keep you from oversimplifying your successes and failures. This will remind you why you pursued the career you do in the first place and stop you from valuing yourself only for concrete rewards.

Patience and resilience 

A growth mindset is the first step to patience and resilience in the workplace. At a time when jobs are scarce and somewhat hectic, these qualities are vital for your happiness and professional success. Take it one day at a time, and remember that no matter what happens, you are the only you. No one else has your exact strengths, and any employer would be lucky to have you!

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