The Myth Of Natural Talent

Posted in Inspiration
on May 11, 2015
This book changed my perspective on so many things and I invite it to change my life. I haven’t ever done a book review on my website, but I had to make an exception for this book, “Mindset,” by Dr. Carol Dweck. This book delves into our individual belief systems and how they hold us back or push us forward in life. There are two different types of mindsets addressed in this book, one is the growth mindset and the other is the fixed mindset. The growth mindset is marked by traits such as seeing everyone as equals that you can learn from, not believing in inherent talent but always working harder when challenges arise and that failure only means lack of experience.  In contrast, the fixed mindset believes that imperfections translate to being deficient in some way and that one should do everything they can to appear competent at ALL times. People with a fixed mindset see themselves as superior to others, whether it be through intelligence, socially, physically, financially..etc.  They’re very judgmental and believe that people have “fixed” traits. A fixed mindset person doesn’t believe that skills can be developed in people. This fixed mindset serves as a false cover to protect a fragile ego that has been built around specific beliefs about yourself and other people. For example, your mother may have always told you that you were good in math (and you always did well) but when the opportunity arose to take a harder math course where you would most likely make a “C,’ instead of an “A,” you chose not to take it. Why? Because your  self worth was on the line and you had to protect it. You believed that if you didn’t perform well at every level in math, that you’re not really that good after all. And that meant you were a failure. The myth of natural talent has deceived many. Although you may be born with a certain amount of natural talent, it will be your dedication to honing it that will determine how successful you are. We only hear about the end of breakthroughs and clever inventions, never knowing all the hard work it took to accomplish them.
Study after study in the book confirmed that these mindsets drastically effect how we approach life. There are certain ways to speak that put others in a growth or a fixed mind state. In one example, there were two teams at a corporation that were given a task. One team was told that they were going to be judged by how well they performed on the project and the other was told that the project was challenging and it was going to take some real effort to accomplish the task. The former group did not perform well and the latter group did. The growth mindset group was told beforehand that the task would be challenging and would require a good bit of effort to accomplish their task. This information got their wheels turning and made them look forward to the process and challenge of learning something new. The fixed mindset group was automatically put on the defense because they felt they were being judged, which produced anxiety and a sense that they had to protect their identities.
In another example,  2nd grade children from inner city schools (who were performing below grade level) were given a growth mindset curriculum and ended up on a 5th grade level by the end of the year. Time after time, children with growth mindset teachers or coaches ended up outperforming their peers by leaps and bounds because they were not bound to an expected end or labeled. (Labeling is often a self-fulfilling prophecy) instead they were fastened into a belief that everyone is able to learn and grow despite any background. And learn and grow, they did. The study also found that many teachers had already assessed their students before they even met them and labeled students by their prior test scores without even meeting them. This is often to cover the teachers lack of ability to inspire learning. This labeling (or mislabeling) lets teachers know which students are going to “get it,” and which students will not. But a growth mindset classroom is founded on the belief that everyone can become more intelligent (more caring, loving, aware, skilled..etc) with hard work and practice.
shutterstock_142211005image credit: Shutterstock
This book effected me in such a huge way because it exposed my own perfectionistic thinking that saw things through a lens of either success or failure. A mindset where I subconsciously labeled people and myself which limited me in many different ways. But the truth is that there is something that you can learn from each person you encounter, from the janitor to the CEO. In this book, I saw many examples of CEO’s who failed because they refused to grow. They would fire their second in command because they were threatened by innovative ideas. Their value and worth was inherently tied to them always performing the best, having the best ideas and outshining everyone. To protect that belief about themselves, they fired or belittled change agents and led the company’s they were running into financial ruin. This book freed me up to not see myself as a finished product ever, but to embrace the process of learning, which is often difficult and requires risk. Natural talent has been praised so much in our culture but hard work is most often the engine that’s really running the car. Michael Jordan was given as an example in the text and the fact that he was cut from his high school basketball team. Michael didn’t say “How can they not see how talented I am?! They must be blind!” No, instead he went to work to improve his game. He continued to improve and become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He even tried baseball, which lets us know that he was not afraid to be involved in something where he was the underdog. For him, the goal was growth, and that should be our goal as well!. Success is a by-product of being willing to see yourself as ever evolving and not allowing yourself to become too attached to these ideas that you’re somehow better or more deserving than the next person. These ideas only provide a false sense of self-esteem. And when things are too easy, you should find something else to challenge you, so you can always be in a state of growing and learning.
Dr. Dweck designed a curriculum called Brainology that teaches children about how the brain functions and how to work with it and other learning strategies that support the growth mindset. I’m going through it and learning so much! I hope you’ll pick up this book, it’s an enlightening read! Check out her Ted Talk that inspired me to read her book!

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