Some people walk around, insisting they are the same person that they were in high school. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’ve grown so much, had so many more experiences, accomplished more, failed more, which allowed you to learn more, all the while you’re a dynamic, physiological being, changing constantly. You are far different from the teenager you once were.
Being fixed is more an attitude, a mindset. These folks believe that they have a hard time learning certain things because that’s just the way they’re made up. They were never good at math. Not strong in sciences. They think they could never write well. Not much of a reader, either. So, they suffer through the designation of being a poor learner, unable to obtain new knowledge within certain domains.
The fixed mindset is a product of a poor self image and low self esteem. Maybe these people didn’t have the luxury of a great education. Perhaps they were told they would never amount to anything over and over again, and have thus struggled with education and learning ever since. Or, maybe they tried really hard in school, but didn’t get great grades regardless. Whatever the case is, they think they’re fixed, forever stagnant, forever stymied at learning anything new. Even though this is merely a script, a story they’ve been telling themselves throughout their lives. None of us are fixed. We are only fixed if we believe we are. It all starts with belief. Do you believe in your ability to figure things out? This is the essence of self-confidence.
We generally lack confidence when we begin something new. We lack confidence because we are new to it. We lack experience and therefore competence with it. Depending upon the activity, it can take awhile to get good at something. We need the reps. We need to put in the time first before we can develop confidence in doing the thing. Then, after we’ve been at it awhile, we develop competence in the activity. We’re improving, and our competence in the activity reflects it. We get better performance and more self-confidence in our ability to perform. It is hard to develop competence and therefore confidence in something if we don’t practice and don’t invest the time. Anything worthwhile is like this. Competence isn’t just handed out. It must be earned.
What is your approach or attitude toward learning new things? Do you jump in, excited to learn everything you can about them? Do you allow yourself to suck at it for awhile and be OK with that? Or, do you hem and haw in a close-minded fashion, desiring to be left alone with the status quo? Your attitude to learning (and change) reflects your open- or close-mindedness. Note that this is not a reflection of age. There are older people who are brilliantly openminded and younger people who are happy with the status quo, the way things are, and don’t wish to see change. It is all in your attitude, your state of mind about the things you must learn.
The open, learning mindset makes things so much easier in our lives. We are open to new experiences, to new ways of accomplishing things, to best practices, to really getting to the crux of things. We also do not believe that we have all the answers. Those truly open think no one has 100% grip on the truth. We’re all learning creatures, grasping and trying to figure things out. This keeps all of us humble. And being humble is a great quality of not only a student, but also of being an expert. As Brendon says, experts are always students first. Commit to being a student first. Then, your time spent as an expert will be that much better.
It is important to note that the attitude you take toward learning is your choice. No one is making you feel this way or that way about learning. No matter how much change is thrown at you, your attitude and perspective is tested both personally and professionally. This is why it is so much easier — and you are far more pleasant to be around — when you choose the open, learning mindset. You are better prepared. You enjoy new experiences, even look forward to them. You know change is coming, that it is just a matter of time. You work to embrace that change and the unknowns that complement it. This gives you resilience in the face of the darkness that keeps appearing. How you view and react to the unknown says a lot about your mindset and your attitude toward learning.
We should strive to make ourselves learning machines, always seeking better ways of doing things, best practices, and ways to improve our energy. We’re learning every day anyway — we might as well commit ourselves to doing it in a better fashion. A great way to short cut your learning is through mentorship. Find someone who already has the results you seek and hire them to be your mentor. This can cut your learning time by 80%, not to mention the emotional pain and frustration of going it alone. The experienced mentor is the one who knows exactly what to do because she’s already done it before over and over again. She’s got the processes down. She knows the potential pitfalls. She knows where things can go sideways. Better, for peculiar industries, she knows how they work and can direct you through them. It is hard to overstate how valuable this can be for your career, say for a writer. An experienced mentor can help you write better, encourage you to improve, and open new doors for you that are otherwise shut. These are the ones who care and are invested in you, which is exactly what you want.
Another great way to turn yourself into a learning machine is to teach your topic regularly. Simply teach. Through teaching, we cement our topic knowledge by sharing it with others less experienced than we are. One of the unfortunate things about teaching is we forget what it is like to not know something. So, a great teacher uses empathy and understanding of what it is like to be a beginner at something and then operate from that perspective. They have to think, “Here is what they’ll need to know where they’re at now.”
Further, when you’re teaching, you are testing your own knowledge, your mastery, of the material. How well do you know it? How good are the answers you give to the questions? Do your students seem to be grasping the new material? Are they enthusiastic to learn from you? Do they want more? How far are they willing to go to learn from you? Teachers and experts are always students first. So, both students and teachers are learning each day to work toward topic mastery.
We’ve all had at least one teacher who struck a chord with us. One teacher who believed in us, who wanted the best for us, who really drove his points home for us, who was enthusiastic about the material. It may have been 20+ years ago when you had him, but you still remember his lessons, his attitude, and his perspective. He probably felt like a mentor. He probably still does. It is these types of teachers that we love and even miss because they are the ones who not only mentored us, but perhaps launched us down the career path that we are on today. It was their energy, their enthusiasm, their teaching style that resonated with us. We remember them and their deep knowledge base decades later. Some of us even aspire to be like them. You may even unconsciously steal some of their style from them if you teach today. It is hard not to do that when you admire someone and want to be like them.
Who can you mentor today through teaching and coaching? Who comes to you for advice on life, on career, on relationships? What problems keep getting thrown at you that you are repeatedly solving? What behavior patterns do you see in your topic that you can help fix or otherwise contribute to improving? It is through mentorship, teaching and coaching that we grow, and rapidly at that. It is a symbiotic life augmentation pattern for all involved.
Find someone to mentor. Find someone to mentor you. Get out there and coach somebody. We all need a coach, even CEOs. Especially CEOs. Nobody has to go at it alone, no matter how high up on the food chain you are. There is always something to learn, something to experience, something new to aspire too. Teach and be taught. Coach and be coached. Mentor and be mentored.