Growth Mind-Set

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” – Mahatma Gandhi

My mom, who will turn 83-years-old in a few weeks, just put on a piano concert for her senior living residence. It’s something she’s done since the pandemic started, trying to fill in the entertainment schedule especially for those who can’t readily leave their apartments. She has to do three performances to keep the audiences small, they performances have been broadcast over the in-house tv and she learns new music for each one.

All that is to say, my mom is a pretty confidence and very capable person. She still practices speaking Russian, a second language she learned in college and even typing out messages to her Russian friends in her What’s App phone application.

But when something goes wrong on her phone and computer, she brings it to me. Often she’s already figured out the solution but she just wants me to confirm it. Which I am more than happy to do. But it always amazes me and amuses me that she has a blind spot in her confidence.

According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book, The Confidence Code, this is not at all unusual, especially with women. Drawing on the research of Stanford professor, Carol Dweck, they describe:

“Most women think their abilities are fixed, Dweck told us. They’re either good at math or bad at math. The same goes for a host of other challenges that women tend to take on less often than men do: leadership, entrepreneurship, public speaking, asking for raises, financial investment, even parking the car. Many women think, in these areas, that their talents are determined, finite, and immutable. Men, says Dweck, think they can learn almost anything.”

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

And the way past that fixed assessment of abilities is to adopt a growth mind-set according to Dweck. It ties with confidence because “Confidence requires a growth mind-set because believing that skills can be learned leads to doing new things. It encourages risk, and it supports resilience when we fail.”

When I first had children, I remember reading several articles about not praising your child for being smart but instead to focus on praising them for their efforts. It turns out that this is exactly the thing for building our own growth mind-set as well. When our internal dialogue is focused on effort and improvement, we reinforce the internal story that we can learn.

Sometimes we have blind spots in our abilities on purpose. We don’t learn things because our partner, friend or child can do it for us. It works fine for us as long as when life requires us to do those tasks, we adopt that growth mind-set, believe we can and then support that with the patience and praise for our efforts as we learn.

I’ve seen my mom do that in these seven years after my dad passed in the many things that were his specialties like taxes and car maintenance. Either through nature or nurture, I think my mom has a growth mind-set. I’m happy to be her computer help but notice that when I do it, she usually looks over my shoulder to see what I’m doing. Maybe by the time she’s in her mid-eighties, she’ll no longer need me for tech support.

This is my third post in the series delving into confidence. The first was I Can and the second was Fear and Confidence.

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Fruits of Blogging

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

I have just passed the milestone of posting to this blog 300 days in a row. Writing a blog has been so personally gratifying to me, mostly because of the community of friendship and support I feel with fellow bloggers on this journey.

So I looked around for studies about blogs and found some interesting conclusions that come from a paper published by the Canadian Center of Science Education. The paper entitled The Effectiveness of Using Online Blogging for Students’ Individual and Group Writing studied a students who were learning English as a Foreign Language. Studying their writing styles before and after a 14-week period of blogging, here are some of the key take-aways that caught my eye:

  • Not only do learners better improve their writing skills through blogging practices, they can also build their self-confidence as writers and attract a wider audience.
  • Blogging practices play an active role in encouraging learners to experiment, take risks and foster their awareness to be private and public writers.
  • Blogging helped both individual learners and groups come up with more engaging ideas.
  • As practice time progressed, learners using blogging tried to transform their writings when they acknowledged their audience and expected or anticipated a level of interaction in the form comments, criticism or support.
  • Blogging became a space where they could improve their writing, and where numerous readers and bloggers were also arbiters in matters of language usage and mechanics, cohesion, coherence, idea generation, debate, discussion, critical thinking and so on.

I couldn’t find a study that verified the positive benefits of interacting with an interesting and interested group of people with whom one would have never met otherwise and who comment in ways that inspire and delight. But I don’t need a study to affirm that – because I live it every day! Thank you my blogging friends!

(featured photo from Pexels)

Growing and Blooming

What we love, others will love and we will show them how.” – Wordsworth

When I was 22-years-old and moving into my first post-college rental, my dad helped me find some used furniture. Some people he knew where moving into a retirement community so we looked at the items they were getting rid of and bought a kitchen table, two chairs and a Christmas cactus. I donated the table and chairs when I bought my first house a few years later but the Christmas cactus has been with me now for 30 years.

It was my first proof that I could keep something other than myself alive. Now I look at that cactus and see it as a reminder of my most important lessons.

It blooms beautifully once a year and then sheds all those flowers as it prepares for its next feat. It’s best to shed the past so you can work towards the next thing.

The cactus does not appear to be doing anything for 50 weeks but then bursts with color for 2 weeks. Most of our work happens on the inside.

Every now and then it’s drooped in the soil it is in and needs to be repotted as its roots grow deeper. We need some new perspective/work/material from time to time in order to stay vivid.

Sometimes it blooms closer to Thanksgiving rather than Christmas. As you get older, you learn to care less about expectations and more about flourishing in the way that works for you.

The growth on the side nearest the light blooms first but eventually, the darker side blooms too. If you water all of yourself, both your bright side and the shadow side will bear fruit.

 Although it’s a cactus, it has no prickly parts. It’s possible to live a long and beautiful life without thorns to protect you.

This weekend I came across my son picking up the dropped flowers with some tweezers and putting them on the stand. It made me think of my most important work. Trying to create a calm, loving space in which others treat things with kindness.

The Conditions for Change

A careful inventory of all your past experiences may disclose the startling fact that everything has happened for the best.” – unknown

I heard a story about a woman complaining about her ex-husband. When they were married he drank heavily but once divorced, he stopped drinking, remarried and turned his life around. His ex-wife said, “Why couldn’t he quit when he was married to ME?” and the punch line of the story was “People change, but not when and how we want them to.”

When I was married, I refused to have children. I had an instinct based on raising a dog with my now ex-husband. It was difficult enough that I didn’t want to extend that experience to kids. My husband would ask and I would say, “I don’t want to have kids.” But in my head, I knew the whole sentence was “I don’t want to have kids with you.”

My ex was not a bad guy. But he had a difficult childhood where he was both beaten and neglected. Before we were together, he’d raised a puppy with a previous partner. He told me he’d hit it with a newspaper if it peed on the floor. Only by experience did he find out that made the dog afraid of him and he stopped hitting it. To his credit, he then learned so that when we got a puppy together, he didn’t hit it.

But every step of the way was my husband having to learn a lesson directly before it sank in. He wouldn’t take my suggestion for how something needed to be done, he couldn’t trust an experts work for what might be best, he had to do the cause and effect himself. I didn’t want to raise kids with someone who had to experiment with them to find out what did, or more painfully, didn’t work.

I imagine that it’s pretty obvious now that I’ve had two kids on my own, that the whole sentence was “I don’t want to have kids with you.” But fortunately I’ve never had to say that sentence directly to him. We are on fine terms with each other but he’s moved away and gotten remarried to someone who has grown children so we rarely interact.

More than that, I am grateful for that divorce because it turned me to meditation, strengthened my faith and set me on the path that I’m on. The bigger issues of my marriage such as his infidelities and the things we valued created a relationship that was not meant to survive. But it still gives me rich ground to learn from.

People change, but not when and how we want them to. I think of that now that my life is so different than when I was married. We can’t control how others change but as I watch my children change every day, I see that we can control the conditions that help change to happen. Curiosity, openness and support work like the seed, soil and sunshine with which people grow.

I see as I create the conditions for my kids to change, I also create the curiosity, openness and support for myself to change. As I grow, I realize that even I don’t know when and how I’ll change but in these rich conditions, I trust it’ll be towards something good.

Say More

You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life and what you’ve become yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The other day I was having a conversation with an acquaintance that I know professionally. She was sharing her concerns for her younger son who is starting his freshman year of college 3,000 miles away. Trying to find the balance between listening well and not prying, I remembered a prompt that I’d picked up from a Brene Brown podcast, “Say more.”

It works like a can opener! I’m a pretty good listener but since I think the art of listening always can be improved, I’m always trying to expand two things to make me better: curiosity and space.

My acquaintance was telling me that her son got a nose ring and was trying out partying. Her story had two threads. One was a little bit of a mother’s grief because she thought she knew who her son was and thought that he did too. And who he was, a smart geek, didn’t match with his freshman year antics.

The second was her effort to be open supportive of her son as he grew and changed. As he texts her updates about what he’s doing, she is trying to find the right balance of how to respond. In many ways, she said she wished he wasn’t telling her because she was having to walk the line of condoning what he was doing.

Curiosity and space. It’s what her son is experiencing in these first months of college. It’s what my friend is trying to give her son. It was what I was trying to give her so that she could vocalize her story. Two gifts that allow us to change and to still say more.

(featured image from Pexels)

Good Grief

I am becoming water; I let everything rinse its grief in me and reflect as much light as I can.” – Mark Nepo

We had to say good-bye to our beloved nanny yesterday. She is moving on to the next phase of her education and experience as it should be for 21 year-olds. But we shed a lot of tears and by we, I mean primarily me and the nanny. My toddler wasn’t dialed in to the import of the moment and my 5 year-old seemed to be distracted by the cards and posters we’d made for the nanny until the very last minute when the dam burst and all the tears came spilling out and she clung to us.

As I held my daughter in our tears, I had an instant of insight about grief that this pure grief that wasn’t tainted with any anger or regret allowed me to see. In that instant I saw how beautiful grief can be as a recognition that we all move on every day and there is something freeing about allowing that growth. It felt as if it was an act of letting go of who we all were yesterday so that we can be wholly we are today.

For me it held another aspect of grief. For almost 5 ½ years I’ve had people coming in to my house to help take care of my kids and now that they are returning to in-person school and full-time preschool, I don’t need that. But this beautiful collection of wonderful people that have cared for my kids have been my partners in parenting in so many ways – in observing my kids’ growth, in laughing about their antics, in ooh-ing and aah-ing about what they learn. I feel as if I’m grieving that community that has helped me grow as a parent. But that insight about grief holds for this too – I’m simply letting go of that so that I can lean in to the new communities we are entering.

My nanny is the daughter of my best friend from growing up. One of the bonuses of having kids when you are 50 years-old is that you have a built-in babysitting pool of college-aged kids from your beloved friends. While she isn’t going to nanny for me any longer, she isn’t going far. And that was the other thing about this grief from yesterday that I noticed. It included a recognition that this beautiful relationship that my kids have with this amazing young woman will outlast me. In the way that grieving my father has allowed me to grow into a person that inhabits him more on the inside, this relationship my kids have with my friends’ kids will carry forward without us but will always hold us near.

Time to Grow

“When you are finished changing, you are finished.” – Benjamin Franklin

I was recently given the opportunity to do some consulting (my day job) for the church for whom my dad was senior pastor when he retired. A chance to do meaningful work for an organization that does amazing job of outreach in the community, racial justice and creating a base for growth for families is right where I want to be. To make it work, I hired a new caregiver for my daughter to come for four hours on the day she has remote school and her brother is in daycare. Naturally, my daughter was nervous on the first day even though she’d met her several times before but she seemingly got past it pretty quickly. Until a couple hours in and I had to leave the house. She bumped her ear on a chair as she was reaching to give me a hug and the tears that came were much bigger than the owie, “You are going to leave?” she whispered tearily.

Ugh, it’s no wonder it feels so hard to consider personal growth and change. My kids are changing at an incredibly rapid pace, the world around us changes but I feel like I’m supposed to stand still in the middle of it all like a statue in order to be that predictable presence, sorta like home base in a game of tag.

I have to consider that I might be the biggest believer in the fact that I cannot change for the sake of my kids. In order to create the consistency that is the cornerstone of their lives and to not be the source of any ruffled feathers, I likely am the most fervent proponent of this belief.

But I know I’m not alone in this. There is a myth from the Trobriand Islands off of New Guinea. In that story, humans were immortal because they could shed their skins and stay young forever. One day a grandmother went to bathe in a river with her granddaughter and while bathing, shed her skin which snagged on a branch. When she returned, her granddaughter didn’t recognize her youthful appearance and was afraid. The grandmother went back to the river, found her old skin and restored her appearance but humans henceforth lost their ability to live forever.

After I reassured my daughter I would be back in two hours, I set her down and resolutely walked down to my car. Then I panicked as I recalculated whether I could do the work without making the change, carving out the additional hours in the evening after I put my kids to bed. I couldn’t and more than that, I shouldn’t because that’s how myths get perpetuated, we pass them on generation after generation. I am fully committed to showing up for my children and the other people in my life – being present, interested, vulnerable and real. When I try to be unchangeable, I feel like I start covering over who I am like a cup that tarnishes so that I diminish my ability to show up. You can’t polish without some rub so even as uncomfortable as it is for me, I’ve committed to some gentle friction as I try to keep growing and changing.