“The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability we will be brittle in the face of adversity” – Josh Waitzkin
I failed my senior year of college at my university last year, but before you judge, hear me out. It was Spring of 2019, and I was wrapping up my college career at the University of Southern Mississippi with an internship at my local news station. I was working as a producer and field reporter with plans of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism that would secure my fulltime job as a news reporter after graduation. Coincidentally, I failed the only class that I needed to graduate, setting back my graduation by an entire year. I was utterly devastated, to say the least, but little did I know this failure would be the best thing that would ever happen to me.
If you’ve never heard this before, let me be the first to tell you: your failures do not define you. Having a friendship with failure can be one of the most powerful keys to a successful and fulfilling future, and if you’ve never failed, I’d arguably say you’re not taking enough risks.
Psychology Professor at Stanford University Carol Dweck studied students’ attitudes about failure after becoming curious as to why some students rebounded with ease. In contrast, others were devastated by even the smallest of setbacks. Dweck performed a study of over 1000 children and coined the term “Fixed and Growth Mindset.”
Growth Mindset: The understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.
(“I’m not the best yet, but I’m learning;” “I haven’t learned this yet;”
“This is challenging but doable with hard work.”)
Fixed Mindset: The belief that abilities and intelligence are fixed traits and, therefore, cannot be changed.
(“Either I’m good or I’m not;” “I can’t learn now, it’s too late;” “There’s no point in trying, if I’m going to fail;” “I always struggle with…” )
If you’re like me, you most likely were told from a young age that you were going to be the one to make a difference; that you were the smartest and most talented; that you were special, and that failure was not an option. If you’re like me, you may unknowingly be pre-programmed with a fixed mindset, which is no fault of your own. This support from your family and peers is incredibly beneficial for boosting confidence at a young age, but what happens when you aren’t able to fulfill these demands placed on you and fail with a fixed mindset of perfection?
When faced with a setback, someone with a fixed mindset will withdraw to avoid failure and humiliation, worrying about how they’ll be judged. On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset understands failure as a necessary setback and an opportunity to learn how to become better and apply the effort to make themselves stronger.
My disappointment and embarrassment led me to Dweck’s research and completely changed my outlook on failure. After looking deeper into why I failed my class, I realized that genuinely I wouldn’t say I liked working in local news. I was far more interested in being behind the camera than I was being in front of one. After reassessing my values and measuring my strengths and weaknesses, I concluded that I was better off pursuing a career in the film industry than continuing my local news career.
This new growth mindset led me to “fail it forward” into new leadership roles, and in doing so, I discovered that I am a natural leader, and I enjoy guiding those who need direction. I failed forward into making my first music video, and in doing so, I won first place in my University’s Shine Out Loud Competition for Best Music Non-News Media Production.
I failed forward placing Top 20 in the Nation for Narrative Multimedia Story Telling in the Hearst Journalism Competition, representing both my school and my entire state. I failed it forward into modeling, and in doing so, I discovered I didn’t look half bad, but I am very awkward and not comfortable modeling (lol).
Most importantly, through my failure, I discovered a community of young aspiring leaders dedicated to making a change in the world. Through the Millennial and Gen Z community, I have met countless lifelong friends, role models, met with top executives at major companies like Mercedes and Coca Cola, and I wouldn’t have made it here without failing.
In a society where failure is often a taboo subject, let it be known that I have learned more from one year of failure than I have in all of my prior schooling combined. Therefore, if you’ve never heard this before, let me be the first to proudly tell you your test scores don’t define you and that you can do anything that you set your mind and effort towards.
“The key to success is not simply effort or focus or resilience, but rather the growth mindset that creates them.”
Here are 5 Tips that I follow to hone my Growth Mindset
1. Proudly Wear Your Weaknesses as Your Armor
2. Take on new Challenges Regardless of the Outcome
3. Own, Review, and Refine Your Failures
4. Don’t Compare Your Behind the Scenes to Other People’s Highlights
5. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone