Mindset, a book review

Back in September, I started a new job at Stripe. During my onboarding trip, I was having a conversation with one of my coworkers over burritos about “Impostor Syndrome”, something both of us had been experiencing since we started. A couple of nearby coworkers weighed in with their thoughts and experiences and we had a great conversation. Afterward, she and I talked about doing a session on impostor syndrome as part of our onboarding curriculum.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I’m trying to put together a talk idea for SCaLE14x. I remembered our conversation and thought it would be a great talk subject, and I could also do a dry-run of it at work during my trip in December. Perfect! I submitted the proposal, it got accepted, and I scheduled a session to give my talk at the office in front of my coworkers!

Upon sending out just the announcement for the talk, I had lots of positive feedback from folks. One conversation in particular that came up was from another of the folks I started with and he linked me to a talk from Allison Kaptur entitled “Effective Learning For Programmers“, a talk he liked to refer people to any time the subject came up.

During her talk, Allison mentions the concept of “mindset” and research done by Carol Dweck. As it turns out, Carol wrote a book about the subject, called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” (amazon, goodreads).

I was having a particularly difficult day and remembered this talk. Immediately I went and grabbed a copy of the book and started reading it. I felt like my brain had been sliced open, analyzed, and the results printed on the pages before me.

The general gist of the book is there are 2 basic mindsets: fixed and growth. A person with a fixed mindset does not believe themselves capable of improvement. The skills and abilities they have are what they were born with, and they cannot improve those. Failures draw the boundaries, the edges of skill and ability. A person with a growth mindset believes they can improve through effort, training, learning. Failure isn’t necessarily a lack of skill, knowledge, or ability. Effort, hard work, and learning can improve skills, enhance ability, and improve performance.

The book goes on to describe language that effects a mindset. Rewarding someone by saying how smart they are can place them in a fixed mindset. Talking about how hard they worked can impart a growth mindset. I’ve personally talked with people about this book, and one person in particular described the language as “something you are as opposed to something you do.” You are smart, or you do work hard.

I’ve been trying to apply the lessons from this book to my own life, to much success, and sometimes less than success. I think one of the greatest examples of the success I’ve had is to be able to look at times when I have been in a fixed mindset since reading this book and not feel unworthy because of them. Basically, not having a fixed mindset about my mindset. And to go one more level of meta, being ok with sometimes having a fixed mindset about my mindset!

The first time I saw Allison’s talk, a lot of what she said really resonated with me, but I didn’t translate it into action. Only later did I recognize the value of what I was hearing and seek more information about it. I feel like my mind wasn’t yet ready to receive the wisdom contained in these pages. I am immensely grateful it eventually was, and that this book came into my life when it did. I believe I’ll look back to this book as a major milestone in my life and my development.