GHC15: It’s Okay to Fail

This session focused on growth mindset versus fixed mindset, and how to acknowledge the failures in our own careers that have been disguised opportunities for growth and advancement.

Growth mindset is the idea that ability is not innate, but is rather developed through hard work and dedication, and that failure is a learning opportunity. The flip side of growth mindset is fixed mindset, is the belief that intelligence and ability is innate or static, and that success is an affirmation of inherent skill. Fixed mindset often leads to the belief that you fail because you’re inherently not capable or not good enough.

“If you aren’t failing on a weekly basis, whether you’re doing research or software engineering, you probably aren’t going far enough.”
– Julia Ferraioli

Of course, growth mindset can be difficult to implement in daily practice. It’s the kind of advice I always give to other people who are feeling down or frustrated about their experiences at school or work, but have a hard time implementing myself. I often build up my mistakes in my mind and it snowballs until I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill.

The panelists and session attendees gave great advice for how they keep a growth mindset. If something goes wrong, get some outside persepective ask someone else about the magnitude of what went wrong. Focus on the good stuff. Email a friend about three things you did well every day.  Think of the people you work with who inspire you, and how they’ve used their failures to their advantage. Remember cases where your colleagues failed but didn’t get fired. Take a deep breath and remember that this too shall pass.

The panel gave another great piece of advice — failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success, and often a very necessary one. We practiced telling our professional biographies and our “failure biographies” in which we reflected the failures we’ve had in our careers and how they helped us get to where we are now.

While a failure biography may not be a great elevator pitch or introduction in your next interview, it was a great way to reflect on the highs and lows of my experiences and how the molehills that seemed like mountains years back were some of the most inspiring and transformative experiences of my life.

When I return to Salt Lake City after GHC and settle back into my research, I’ll do my best to maintain a growth mindset and recognize challenges and failures for what they are — opportunities to grow and learn about myself and my field.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
– Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The panelists recommended two resources for additional information on this topic, Thanks for the Feedback! by Sharon Hess and Douglas Stone and Growth Mindset.


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