By Anant Gupta
I’m fortunate to have surrounded myself with a lot of high performing people over the years. As I’ve learned to navigate school and career, these people have been my role models, my mentors, and my teachers. Through them, I've tried to understand what it takes to grow and succeed, at work and in life.
It’s a common trope that successful people are lifelong learners. That they never stop being students. That they continuously seek new experiences and push the boundaries of their comfort zones.
This is certainly true in my experience. But that’s not the whole story. Anyone can receive new information, but not everyone truly learns from that information. Think about any class you took in school, or any group trip, challenge or activity. Invariably, some people learned very little, and others extracted tremendous value. In order to be an effective lifelong learner, two things have to be true:
1. We know all of ourselves: Growth starts from a place of healthy self-awareness. Self-awareness requires honest assessment of strengths andweaknesses. Successful people are justifiably confident with their strengths, but they also acknowledge their weaknesses. Before you can improve, we have to identify where there is room to improve.
2. We believe in “yet”: In addition to knowing that we have room to improve, we have to believe we have the capacity to improve. Weaknesses aren’t immutable character flaws; they are strengths that just haven’t been developed…yet. This isn’t as simple as it might sound. As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, many of us are raised to believe that intelligence and talent are fixed, based on innate ability. These people avoid challenges and stress about looking smart, because failure is a slight on their value as people. The most successful people I know don’t subscribe to this idea – they believe they can improve through effort. People who believe they can grow are willing to be wrong, to look dumb. Embarrassment is simply the first step on the path to competence.
We know it’s important to be a lifelong learner. To do this, we must adopt a growth mindset, borne out of awareness and acceptance of our strengths and limitations. It’s a bit of a Catch 22, of course, but the best way to adopt a growth mindset is to practice. Be mindful of every time you say "I can't..." Pick one thing you're not good at and set aside time for deliberate practice. Track your improvement. It won't all work out right away. But through small, incremental challenges and experiences, we’ll get better.