Twitching my crossed leg up and down, my eyes focused on the dancing sandal on the end of my toes. My chest rose to suck in air and courage. On the exhale, I blurted out, “I think life’s all downhill at this point for me.”
With a loving eyeroll, one of my confidants asked, “how old are you, again?”
“37. My body’s going downhill. I’ve made all the big decisions in life that have landed me here. Now, I’m just raising these kids and that’s all there is left. I’m done trying.”
The other ladies in the room didn’t assent to my new theory on life, and for good reason. It doesn’t work that way.
In life, you are growing or dying. It’s like the tide. It can swell or recede, but never stand still.
It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. Deciding that the purposeful-living portion of my days on Earth were over did lead downhill. I was trying to deny my choice in the matter, though. My proposal that I had no further role in the trajectory of my life was a fallacy.
I was frustrated with my circumstances when I made the declaration that I was going to cut and run on this living thing. Something struck me recently, though. Even on the other side of the coin, where things are lovely, there is no resting on your laurels. I had this realization with respect to my fitness goals. At my fitness facility, there are these lovely, hard-bodied trainers. Yet, each one works out on a regular basis. They didn’t reach an ideal body and then, cancel their gym membership and start eating pizza all day.
For me, this was a sad revelation. As much as I like the people I work out with and the stress relief that I get from the gym, if I could look good and be healthy by napping and eating junk, I would. There is an inner lazy Becca, who would love life to work like that.
Why do we even call it a fitness journey or call life a journey, for that matter? Neither is a journey with a destination. There’s never going to be an “I’ve arrived” moment where I can turn off the engine and let it cool down. Sure, there are goals that are reached, but they won’t be maintained if I don’t keep trucking along. And so it goes with the mind and spirit as it does with the body.
My opening story is factual. At the ripe old age of 37, I decided I had made a series of decisions, which forever doomed me to an unfulfilling life. The only good and worthy things were my two little people whose lives I’d try not to screw up. The women who heard my confession were close to my age. Therefore, my proposal that it’s all downhill after 37 was not warmly welcomed.
Hear me out, I implored. I think we were sold a bag of lies. Our baby boomer parents told us all we were so smart that we could be whatever we wanted. Wrong. We are not all destined for some great famous, monetarily abundant lifestyle. We were told we could do whatever we wanted if we believed in ourselves just like our parents and teachers believed in us. And now we’re middle age mommies whose careers are on hold or limited because of kids, and feel depressed and sad because we couldn’t have it all, all at the same time, and just by believing an awful lot.
I felt like the reason I was unsatisfied with my life was that my expectations were unrealistic. And they were, but not because they were grand! The problem with that philosophy is that the take-away is don’t tell children to shoot for the moon. That didn’t feel like truth to me, and it wasn’t.
Come to find out, Stanford professor Caroll Dweck has come up with a better theory, which explains my 37-year-old frustration: mindset. She coined the term “growth mindset,” which is in contrast to a “fixed mindset.”
I was looking at my life through the lens of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset takes failure personally. Mistakes are failures of ability, talent, and even morality. I was discouraged, not because my life was so horrible, but because it was full of human messiness. In my fixed mindset, that meant I didn’t have what it took to have a meaningful life. In a fixed mindset, you either have the talent or you don’t. I had had failures after all, so I must be a failure!
A growth mindset, first of all, is freedom from that self-esteem killing rigidity! A growth mindset flips the switch from ‘success is because of talent’ to ‘we can all grow from where we are.’ My expectations were unrealistic because they were that innate ability and strong belief produce a full life, rather than hard work and persistence. Growth mindset recognizes that the successful, in addition to their natural gifts, worked freaking hard and failed a lot to achieve what they have. Growth mind set says failures are not the end, but the beginning of the next attempt.
The suck is that if you embrace a growth mindset to life, you’re signing up to live life every day, at every age, in every season. No days off. But take it from someone who tried to pack it all in, that’s not the better solution. Yes, a growth mindset says you never get to stop working Lazy Becca, but that’s wonderful because I can still do things of value on this Earth!
If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves to praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence. – Caroll Dweck