One of my best friends is a high school teacher, and he often shares stories with me about his classes like how once he asked his class to define their life philosophy. I thought this was a bold and challenging thing to ask a group of teenagers, but it’s nonetheless a productive thing to consider no matter how old you are. They came up with all sorts of answers, and of course my friend gave them his own life philosophy. “Kobiashi maru,” he said. “I don’t believe in the no-win situation.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Star Trek, the kobiashi maru is a test that all Starfleet graduates must face, but it’s designed to be impossible to pass. In the original series, Captain Kirk cheated on the test and enabled himself to win, hence the philosophy of not believing in the no-win scenario. My friend even is a lot like Captain Kirk when I think about it, and I’m like his Dr. McCoy.
After this conversation I had to ask myself what my life philosophy is. I ruminated on this question for a time but couldn’t come up with any answers. I believe in many things, but what single belief is an accurate reflection of my outlook on life? Only recently did I arrive at the answer that eluded me.
Last month I finished reading Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, a book that changed my life for the better. You’ve maybe heard about the mindsets concept before but never realized that this brilliant psychologist created the idea based on 30 years of rigorous scientific research.
The premise of the book is that people can have two different mindsets: fixed and growth. We all possess both of these mindsets, and the book describes the differences between the two, how both of them manifest in the human mind, and how people can adapt a growth mindset to achieve their utmost potential. The book unlocked parts of my brain that had been dormant or neglected for a long time. Now, in everything I do and everywhere I go, I try to apply growth mindset principles.
At its core, the difference between the growth and fixed mindset is that people with a fixed mindset look at failures and setbacks as discouraging defeats, but people with a growth mindset see them as opportunities to learn and grow. After all, life is all about learning. “It is human to err,” Shakespeare famously wrote, so we should not be so hard on ourselves when we make mistakes. We are all only human, after all.
It’s amazing what you can achieve when you adopt a growth mindset. Take Michael Jordan for example. Did you know that he was cut from his high school basketball team, and it hurt him so deeply that he nearly gave up on the sport altogether? His mother wouldn’t let him, however, and encouraged him to stick with it. He started to practise harder and more often than ever before, correcting his mistakes and improving his technique until he became the great player he wanted to be. Even when he was at the top of his game in the NBA he never stopped practising. There is no achievement without effort, no greatness without dedication, and for Michael Jordan his dogged practise and quest for perfection led him to become the greatest basketball player on the planet. That is what the growth mindset can do.
My life philosophy
It goes to show that even the greatest among us were terrible at first. Do you think Mozart was an amazing composer from the start? Of course not. Only through dogged determination and daily practise did he manage to become one of history’s most accomplished musicians. The only reason Shakespeare became so prolific was because he spent endless hours working on his craft, never giving up when setbacks arose. This simple tenet holds true for anyone who has come to excel in their field.
Skills can be learned and improved; that is at the core of the growth mindset. Even if you’re absolutely terrible at something you can improve, and if you’re already great at it you can get even better. There is no ceiling to how far you can go. There is no limit to how great you can be as long as you stay focused and dedicate the time to putting in the effort and take setbacks as opportunities to improve, not obstacles to defeat you.
So what’s my life philosophy? Keep going. That’s it. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things might seem, I have to keep going. There is no achievement without effort, and even if I attain the highest award possible for a writer I will not stop there; I will keep going. I will endlessly pursue the refinement of my craft, always looking for new ideas, styles, and techniques. Life is a work in progress and unless I keep going through the good and the bad I will never reach my goal.
My life ambition
In my career, I feel like I’m just hitting my stride and I can see there is still so much further to go. There are a lot of things I could achieve in my writing. I could publish a bestselling novel. I could start a digital magazine. I could win the Pulitzer or the Nobel Prize for Literature.
But with all these things, I don’t look at them as being achievements for the sake of proving myself. I think how amazing it would be to do work of such high calibre and impact that it merits winning such a prestigious award. I don’t know yet what that work might be, but I do know that if I keep going I’ll get there eventually.