“Now put yourself in a growth mindset. You’re a novice-that’s why you’re here. You’re here to learn. The teacher is a resource for learning. Feel the tension leave you; feel your mind open up.”
-From “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck
I am a novice. I am here to learn.
These two short phrases have helped me incredibly during my transition to Lima and they are the ones that I will make my students repeat again and again through out the school year. When we can accept that we are novices, when we can stop trying to prove how smart we are, that is when the true learning happens. As Dweck mentions in her book, it is our fear of “not being smart” that often leads us to reject opportunities for learning. What I have enjoyed about being in a new city is that it has given me the opportunity to feel like a novice again, rather than always acting as an expert.
During my final year in Mexico I felt stale. While I loved my city, my job and my weekends spent surfing, there was something missing. When I went out to eat, I often went to the same places where I knew I could get a great meal. In my teaching, I sometimes fell back on my tried and true lessons; the ones I knew would succeed. During my weekends, I headed to the same beach, the one with the break I loved and was comfortable surfing. Though none of this was bad, I was cruising in a comfort zone where things felt easy. In the words of Dweck, things were “flawless.” I was almost guaranteed a great meal, perfect lesson, and an awesome surf session; but I wasn’t learning.
Fast forward to July 10th. As I write this blog post, I am on a bus to Huaraz in the Cordillera mountains of Peru. Embracing the growth mindset, I took a risk and tried something new. Normally, I would have headed straight for the coast, in search of the best waves. Usually surfing is what drives my exploration. This is awesome, but it also prevents me from going to places that are not on the coast. While surfing is my passion, it also acts as my comfort zone. I know that I will have a great time surfing, which stops me from trying new experiences that I may or may not enjoy. This time though, inspired by “Mindset” and my first few days in Lima, I decided to branch out and try something new.
As I have been reading the book “Mindset” and learning how to navigate Lima, I have been struck by the idea that we often forget the “yet” that is inherent in the process of learning. As successful people we often feel like “hotshots,” cruising along in our comfort zone of success. When confronted with a new challenge, we feel the impending sense of “Oh my God, I can’t do that.” What Dweck explains is that we need to remind ourselves that we “don’t know how to do this-yet.” The “yet” is the key ingredient, as it points to the fact that we are not experts in everything and that learning is a process.
I have had to remind myself of this idea that learning is a process a number of times during my first few days in Lima. While at times it is difficult, it is also liberating. Rather than trying to find the perfect restaurant, the best spot to surf or the fastest bus route, I have been open to the idea of exploring and allowing myself the space to fail/learn. I am seeing first hand how failure and learning go hand in hand. By reading “Mindset,” I have become more comfortable with the idea that everything I do does not have to lead to immediate success.
As Dweck discusses, the fixed mindset makes us think that success should be immediate and that having to put in effort means we are somehow “failing.” By taking a growth mindset, I have felt more free to make mistakes and I have learned a lot more in the process. Additionally, what I would have once considered “failures” have now become “learning experiences.” If I get on the “wrong” bus, I learn a new route. If I randomly choose a restaurant, I learn about a new type of food or a different part of the city. In realizing that each experience is not a reflection of my “fixed ability” to succeed or fail, I have opened myself to learning and exploring without the tension of having to get it “right” the first time.
In reflecting, I am not saying that one has to change jobs and move to a new country to embrace the novice mindset. There are opportunities for learning new things even within the space of our “everyday experience.” The key is constantly reminding ourselves that whether we are in school or out of school, traveling to foreign lands or embracing the comforts of home, every experience holds the potential to teach us something new. All it takes is repeating two key phrases: I am a novice. I am here to learn.