From insecure teenager to appreciated consultant

A fixed mindset almost made me quit computer science

Video of the talk (swedish)

For me, university was hard. I guess in a way it is for most people, but the reasons for each person are different.

Here’s my reason: I was stuck in a fixed mindset. It wasn’t until I heard Linda Rising at the Agile Turku Day that I realized this had been the problem. Linda explained the work of Carol Dweck, a professor in psychology and the author of Mindset.

In short, you can either see your abilities as fixed and static the same way as your height for example. Or you can see them as muscles, being able to grow. If you see them as fixed, you either have an ability or you don’t.

So this happened to me in a programming class: I felt like all of the others understood things faster than me which meant their ability for learning programming was better than mine. This also meant that I would not be able to learn as much programming as them. And worst part: there was simply nothing I could do about it!

It got so bad that I almost gave up. I thought “I apparently don’t have any talent for this. What’s the point in even trying?!”.

Now, I don’t even believe in talent. Perhaps, the very best in the world could have something special with regards to the topic they excel at. But then again, the very best in the world have spent an incredible amount of time practicing that particular topic…

This means I live by a growth mindset nowadays; given enough time I could learn anything. My biggest issue now is prioritizing all of the topics I want to learn and making sure I pick one at the time to focus on. Otherwise my stress level goes up.

Yesterday I gave a talk about this at my old university, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, at an event called Future Friday. The goal of the event was to attract students to apply to the master of science program in information technology. The attendees were 18-19 year old and trying to decide what to study.

The title of my talk was “From insecure teenager to appreciated consultant”. About 100 people came to listen and 95% of them were girls. It makes me wonder, is this something we need to talk about more? Not the success in your career, but your struggle in your career. What was hard for you when you worked your way to where you are now?

Either way, I think everyone should know about the concept of fixed or growth mindset because everyone I talk to has a story related to it and as long as the concept of “talent” is out there people are going to believe that abilities are static. So, read Mindset, and spread the word!

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