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The Secret to Growth: Embracing a Kindergarten Mindset

A mistake is simply a lesson to learn from. To get good at anything, obsolutely requires hundreds, if not thousands of mistakes as we move from novice to mastery.

When writing your first blog post, trying to launch a new video on YouTube, or taking your initial steps into social media, you’re taking a risk—one that feels difficult if not heart-stopping.

Fear of failure can readily prevent you from taking the action you need to progress. But, is failure really a problem, or is it just a natural process of learning and growth? How you view obstacles, how you view the world, and how you view yourself, all impact your ability to grow.

Do challenges outside your expertise paralyze you? Or do they spark interest and compel you to experiment?

In kindergarten, we all embraced a mindset of growth. We quickly picked up a paintbrush and splashed color all over the page—without anxiety. It wasn’t intimidating, but rather fun.

We jumped into new projects with both of our hands, throwing around paper and glue, while we ate up colorful concepts, like the happy little monsters we were. Effort was just play. Learning was a natural process of exploration. That approach need not end in kindergarten.

Successful entrepreneurs keep pushing and playing throughout their lives—they never let this kindergarten mindset dissipate.

Going Back to Kindergarten

As a professional blog editor, writing isn’t new to me. Writing is difficult—for sure. Making it a daily habit, and writing well takes hard work, but it’s within a skill-set I feel comfortable with. It isn’t as difficult as jumping into something I have little to no experience with. That is a challenge on another level.

Learning to code, or cook, or draw, or a new language—any skill you haven’t dived deeply into—is a brand new experience. It’s like going back to kindergarten, where you will learn entirely new concepts for the first time, and be exposed to techniques unfamiliar to you.

It’s exciting, but standing at the beginning can just as quickly fill you with anxiety.

When I draw, I often feel like a failure before I even pick up a pencil because my work is so amateur. I’m used to taking written drafts and polishing them until they shine, but my skill with writing doesn’t translate over to other skills like drawing. You can be a master of one domain and an amateur in another.

With drawing, I have so many weaknesses. I can’t draw hands well, I can’t draw bodies well, my process of first sketch to final work doesn’t feel smooth.

This is where the kindergarten mindset comes in handy. As kids we play. We don’t get so wrapped up in making something perfect. In kindergarten we’re still at an age when we easily get completely focused on the moment—letting our activities absorb us.

Watch a child draw and they are telling a story, literally telling a story, often out loud as they draw. They are wrapped-up in their drawing, not because they are obsessed with making a technically correct work of art, but because they are enjoying what they are doing so much.

This ability to find joy in your work leads to success in any new endeavor. Kids don’t fail; they just experiment and play.

Embrace naivety. Delight in learning. Every time I draw I remind myself to approach it with this childish mindset. There is a clear difference between a mindset that keeps us in place versus one that encourages growth.

A Mindset for Growth

Carol Dweck is a researcher at Stanford University, and the author of, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book reveals the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset:

  • Fixed mindset students believe that their abilities are already set. They think their intelligence and talents are predetermined. Their goal is to always look smart and never look foolish.
  • Growth mindset students see their abilities as malleable, they can be developed through effort and work. They don’t necessarily believe everyone is the same, but they think anyone can get smarter or achieve better results if they put the work in.

This research changes they way we see learning and the path toward success. Your ability to grow depends on your belief that your abilities can, and should, be developed:

  • Learning to draw is not a mystery; it requires learning visual concepts and dedicated practice.
  • Learning to write well is a skill you can develop—one word, one sentence, one paragraph forward every day.
  • Learning to market your business requires embracing trial and error, to learn from your mistakes, compile results, and form new strategies.

How you face roadblocks or learn anything new is more effective when you embrace a growth mindset. How you face challenges, the work you’re willing to do, and how you compare yourself to others either pushes you forward or holds you in place. Let’s look at this deeper:

1. Face Your Challenges

A fixed approach to a challenge is to avoid the risk of failing. A person with a fixed mindset stays away from challenges that may negatively impact their self-image. They would rather not try, then to try and fail. They will stick to what they know they perform well and steer clear of challenges outside that.

A big portion of my life could be defined as me avoiding challenges I wasn’t already good at, or that I felt were outside my comfort zone. What a waste. Over time, I’ve learn to dig in and embrace challenges.

A person with a growth mindset knows that: no matter the challenge, you can face it, learn from it, and improve. Also, you come out stronger on the other side. Each time I try to draw, I get better. Each failed business attempt is one more bit of experience I can put to use in the next project. Every challenge teaches you something new.

Each business challenge you face, you learn from—adding more skill and ability to your entrepreneurial repertoire.

2. Overcome Obstacles

You have some level of control over the challenges you face. You can choose to go to a new country, live there, and learn a new language. You can decide to launch a podcast or write an ebook. Obstacles, though, are outside your control. These are external forces that you have to deal with.

A person with a fixed mindset is blindsided by obstacles. If the problem lies outside their skills, they quickly try to avoid it, and let fear hold them back from facing it. Whereas, a person with a growth mindset looks at these external forces as opportunities to learn.

If you’re given a paper to write in school on a topic outside you’re area of expertise, or a report in the workplace, you’re not discouraged. Your self-image is not tied to the success of the project. If you put in effort and get mediocre results, you’re okay with it. Failure is just part of the process of learning.

If obstacles get in your path, if you have setbacks, with a growth mindset you’re determined to work through them—putting in the effort that is necessary.

3. Get Out What You Put In

The work you put in is the path to achievement. Someone with a fixed mindset doesn’t see it that way. They see effort as a sign of inability. They don’t see the path of learning as a tough road, with unpleasant hardships to work through, that pay dividends out on what you put in.

4. Filter Criticism

A person with a fixed mindset doesn’t handle criticism well. They quickly take criticism as a direct and personal insult, or they completely ignore it—not being able to deal with the affront. This leads to stagnation, by isolating yourself from external influences that could lead to positive change.

If you have a growth mindset, you’ll place criticism into a framework of learning. Negative feedback is filtered: any personal attacks, or negative feelings, are left to the side; while the substance of the criticism is analyzed.

This is a process your should cultivate: work on filtering and deconstructing criticism. Review feedback for knowledge that can propel your growth.

It can be tough to field any type of negative feedback, especially in a professional setting, where the stakes are high. It’s imperative to your entrepreneurial growth to handle criticism well.

Take a deep breath, let the negativity dissipate, and then mine the criticism for helpful information. Make it a part of your process.

5. Learn From Others

A person with a fixed mindset, not only doesn’t want to deal with criticism from others, they are also intimidated by the success of others. The success of someone else is a mirror they use to compare to themselves, and this reflection gives them a negative self image.

Instead, a person with a growth mindset sees someone else’s success as a source to learn from. It inspires them to push forward.

Cultivate and Accelerate Growth

A few months ago I participated in a Startup Weekend here in Orlando Florida. It’s technically a conference, but quite different in format. It isn’t just sitting and watching presentations, rather it’s focused on taking action.

At a Startup Weekend you become part of a team and literally work towards launching a business in a weekend. It’s a hectic and surefire way to push you out of your comfort zone. This quickly pinpoints where you are stagnating and will push you to make breakthrough. You succeed at this event by jumping into tasks (many well outside your core skill set): giving presentations, writing marketing copy, designing graphics, taking in-person person polls—learning through hands on techniques.

I found myself asking for permission to act early on at this event, left behind while those around me just jumped in, and tackled each new obstacle. I didn’t make progress at first, nor help my team by sitting on the sidelines. It wasn’t until I jumped in, self-directed, and started taking risks, that the spirit of the weekend started to make sense to me. I made lot’s of mistakes, but so did everyone on my team, we learned as we failed forward.

We had a real, tangible business, a truckload of promotion, and something to feel proud of by the end of the weekend. We got real audience feedback and made tremendous progress in a short period of time. It made me realize how much I could accomplish everyday, if I would just take this approach and apply it to my own work.

If you want to reach your creative business potential, then work on developing the traits of a person with a growth mindset. See challenges as opportunities, failure as fuel for growth, effort as necessary, criticism as as source of knowledge, and other people’s success as proof that you can be success too.

Jump in, experiment, make mistakes, and learn as you go.

Now is Your Time for Growth

Throughout our lives, we build up this identity of ourselves, and a big part of that identity are the things we are good at, those things we’ve accomplished—our successes. When you become a master of a domain it’s all too common for it to feel difficult to appear inexperienced in another.

You could have a growth mindset in one area of your creative business, while being quite fixed in another. For example, you might believe that you can readily continue to improve your creative skills, while feeling that components of your business skills are not attainable.

Try dissecting your attitude toward different areas of your creative business:

  • Do you have a fixed or growth attitude to each important part of your business?
  • How do you approach new challenges in your business?
  • Do you readily embrace obstacles or does each setback push you further into a fixed position?
  • Are there critical areas of your creative business that you’re avoiding?

Trying anything new, ensures failure, in fact it ensures multiple, repeated failures before breaking through. This can be difficult for one’s ego to take.

It requires a reframe of failure to take on a new endeavor. Success at anything is incremental. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Learning to embrace and enjoy the process is paramount to breaking through. So to is pushing yourself to take on new, uncomfortable challenges.

Your forward progress as an entrepreneur necessitates a growth mindset. Where are you fixed? Where are you stagnant? What can you do to shake that loose and set yourself up for growth?

Don’t let failure hold you back when learning new things:

  • Alright, your cake didn’t turn out symmetrical, but it does in fact taste like cake and is edible.
  • Your painting looks like a seven year old made it, but at least your learning how to mix colors and apply paint to canvas.
  • Your marketing campaign got few click-throughs, but you have another strategy to try.

Embrace the process of failing forward, as that’s what learning is.

As you push yourself to break through more obstacles, especially those outside your comfort zone, you’ll create positive feedback loops. You’ll prove to yourself that you can learn diverse skills, overcome numerous obstacles, and this knowledge will encourage you to keep learning and continue moving forward.

Your Kindergarten Mind

We all have to start somewhere—and with new endeavors we all start at zero.

If you have a fixed mindset, then it’s a tough pace to be—one filled with fear and avoidance. But, if you embrace a growth mindset, then new challenges are wondrous—they feel like fascinating opportunities, filled with colorful potential, inside surprising worlds you’re excited to dig in and explore. They are fun, rather than fear inducing.

If you continually learn new things, life can be more like kindergarten, so to can your creative business endeavors. Shift into a kindergarten mindset. Embrace the adventure.

Learn, play, and grow everyday.

Graphic Credit: Hat designed by pixeline from the Noun Project.

  • Guest

    Your articles are really interesting and informative. It would be awesome if there were a podcast option too, so I could listen to your articles while working on projects.

  • Samantha

    Your articles are really interesting and informative. It would be awesome if there was a podcast option too, so I could listen to your articles while working on projects.

    • Sean Hodge

      @Samantha – Good suggestion. A podcast is likely something I’ll tackle down the road. I am guesting on podcasts quite a bit though. Thanks.

  • Samantha

    I loved this article so much! I used to have a fixed mindset, but now I’m trying to be more like a ‘kindergartner’. The kindergarten metaphor is wonderful, because it perfectly captures the playful quality of learning. ‘Failing forward’ is such a positive way of looking at failure as necessary for growth.

    • Sean Hodge

      Samantha, happy to hear the metaphor resonates with you. Would love to hear about what you’re facing right now? Whether it’s a personal path or a creative business one, failing forward is just the human way to accomplish anything. Thanks.

      • Samantha

        I’m currently in the beginning stage of building a freelance artist business for myself. My main challenges are: social networking, finding paid work, and trying to understand what clients want. (Sometimes they can be so vague in their descriptions.) I’m also looking into generating passive income on stock image websites. I really liked your podcast on Chris Oatley’s website. :)

        • Sean Hodge

          Hey Smantha,

          It’s tough in the beginning to decide where to focus your time and energy.

          Finding paid work is challenging, but the more you keep building your online profile the easier it will be to have clients start coming to you. Social networking can be a valuable part of your freelance marketing, but it’s also an easy way to lose lots of time with little results. It’s good to be on social media and active. It’s a good way to meet people and network, which can lead to gigs. Keep experimenting. If you break through with a tactic, see if you can repeat that success.

          Trying to understand what clients want is difficult. Often it’s a matter of leading them through your process though. So, try working on a project questionnaire (or something similar) that will result in a clear brief you can work from. And refine that process with each client you work with. That way, no matter how clueless the client is, you can walk them through it.

          Generating passive income through stock is worth putting time in. It’s often a slow climb though, with only a trickle of income resulting from the time you put in. If you do it long term though, it can add up. Freelancing is often a quicker path to repeatable and higher income. Maybe split your time to where you’re getting results. Lot’s of freelancers put their passive income projects as 10 to 20 % of their workweek, with the other 80% to 90% focused on their freelance business.

          I’m a bit slow on the reply here, but I really appreciate you sharing this.

          • Samantha

            Hi Sean. Thank you for the helpful advice. I really appreciate the time you took to help me with this new career choice of mine. I have been thinking about creating work for a stock illustration website, but was not sure how much time to devote to it. You’re welcome, for sharing your article. I look forward to reading and learning more from your website. :)