This blog post is Part 9 in a 14-part blog series on discovering and living your mission. (If you missed the previous posts, you can find Part 1 here.) In the last blog post, we talked about the importance of exploring your “how,” and developing an area of expertise that you can use to work toward your purpose.
Before we get into some practical exercises for how to develop an area of expertise, I want to talk about one major block that can derail people’s quest to develop expertise. This block is very common in our culture and society, and because of that, it can be easy to believe it and live by it. It is important to be aware of this block and have it in front of you as you work toward developing an area of expertise and living out your mission.
Here is the block: having a fixed mindset.
Psychologist Carol Dweck from Stanford University says that people generally fall into one of two camps regarding their beliefs about themselves. Some people have a “fixed mindset,” which says that our character, intelligence, and creative abilities are fixed, meaning we can’t change them even if we try. Other people have a “growth mindset,” which says that we are able to change these aspects of ourselves with consistent effort over time.
Here’s how Dweck describes it: “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training”
As we will see in the next few blog posts, developing an area of expertise involves consistent effort over time. To develop an expertise, you have to push yourself outside your comfort zone. It involves continually challenging yourself at the edges of your abilities. This is difficult work, and sometimes it isn’t much fun. To engage in this work consistently over time, you have to believe it is worth your time and effort. If you don’t, if you have a fixed mindset about your abilities, there is no way you will put in the sweat equity needed to develop an area of expertise. Don’t let the fixed mindset get in your way. Your potential is unknown, and your story isn’t written yet. In order to maximize your potential, you have to fully commit to a growth mindset.
Click here to read Part 10: Explore and Experiment