By Cheryl Scheir
As a seasoned, professional writer, I cringe to think of all the writing advice that I abandoned to oblivion during my high school and college years. To me, the grade was the thing, and the comments were, to be honest, irrelevant. My perspective, which is also freely admit to in my post, “Writers Love Your Editors,” is that every piece I write deserves a “Cheryl, you’ve done it again. A++.”
Of course, my perspective is not reality.
This is the curse of academic high achievers, of whom I’m one. We get so much positive reinforcement throughout our school years that we can start to think we can do no wrong. When we get a “you’re not all that” wake-up call (eg, coming in second in the class, missing out on a shoe-in scholarship, getting a C+ in Calc 22 and astronomy, or getting reamed out for an hour by a team of medical reviewers because they hate everything we wrote), our reality is shattered.
That’s not how it needs to be.
One thing that experience, including the heartache of criticism and failure, has taught me is that I can get better. I may be born with a certain amount of talent, but I choose to grow or stagnate that talent. I can make mistakes, and I can also learn from those mistakes. Feedback is a good thing; what makes criticism constructive or destructive is the delivery, and solid feedback is sometimes wrapped up in a very ugly package.
In short, by replacing my fixed mindset (“I am as good as I’m going to be, and I’m the best!”) with a growth mindset (“Building on what I’ve already got, which is pretty darn good, I can learn new skills and improve existing skills!”), you can really start to go places.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for applying a growth mindset:
Think about it: What are your strengths? What would you like to be able to do better? What do your experiences, good and bad, tell you about yourself? If something goes badly, what could you do differently next time?
Build a bond: Some people’s delivery of criticism is incredibly encouraging and helpful, while others’ is truly meanspirited, unwarranted, and atrocious. Cultivate a relationship with one or more trusted mentors who can help you tell the difference while still being able to “mine the gold” of the feedback you’re getting.
Keep risking it: The ocean waves can smack you down or lift you up, but nothing will happen if you don’t get in the water. Don’t wait for a smooth-sailing, criticism-free opportunity to come to you. Pursue challenges that will test your mettle and flex your muscles. If you get discouraged, which will happen sometimes, don’t stay down for long. Come back with a fresh perspective and another try, and see where it goes.