Book Review: Mindset by Carol Dweck

I can usually tell by 15 pages in to a self-help book whether it’s going to resonate with me; usually, it’s not going to. I can’t stand being told about how much I can get done in the morning if I start at 3am or that if I work 10x harder than everyone else it will pay off. These are obvious, hard work usually pays off (although if you think it automatically does, you should read Peak by Anders Ericson).

Dweck’s book is entirely different. It suggests that if you want to find fulfilling success, you should look at the world a little differently. You should stop asking yourself if you are successful and start asking what you can do to grow. I have to admit that 15 pages in to this book, I thought the idea was too simple to be useful. The more I read though, the more I liked the way it challenged me to think about life.

I’ve always been one to enjoy my successes with a little pat on the back (or more likely a celebration scotch). What I considered a success though was often what the rest of the world would view that way. For example, if my team at work won a new big project I would celebrate. If we had a month where we didn’t get a new project, I’d feel bad. It always felt a little cheap celebrating when the project win was just lucky and it was always tough to feel too bad when we made a great pitch to a customer that I knew would help them in the long-run, but that got scuttled when a key stakeholder retired. This book gave me a better way to look at these projects than pure outcome based success or failure.

Dweck would have us focus on “growing”. In the above example, the team clearly grew in our capability to identify and sell key projects by making that presentation (maybe we also learned how to identify clients we shouldn’t bother with). Dweck points out that it’s not that luck doesn’t exist; it’s just that you don’t want to let let your luckiest moments be the way you define yourself. This construct has given me a more consistent way to approach my days. Even on a bad luck day I start thinking about what I can learn from the situation and the best possible way I can move from here. If I’ve done my best and learned, I feel content and even more ready to take on the next day.