I’ve written before how hard the end of last year was for me. I’d accomplished a lot in 2022, but none of it seemed like it was going anywhere. Then I failed to place in a contest and, on the same day, got back some constructive criticism on my novella, and that was more than I could absorb at once.
I realized something. There is an indefinable quality some people have that makes them a success. You might call it charisma. You might say they are ‘lit from within.’ I call it it. Some people have it. Some people don’t. Their work is successful, people just pay attention to them, their posts go viral on social media. Everything they touch turns to gold, just because they are involved in it.
I know, I know …
My books weren’t selling. None of my social media posts were going viral. I was getting rejected both by editors and readers. Whatever it was, I don’t have it. In a way that thought was comforting. If I just didn’t have it, then it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t have to worry about developing better strategies or leveling up my craft. Whatever level of non-success I attained, that was going to be it. I’d given it a good try. I knew my work was good. I am sometimes clever on social media. If I don’t have it, it made sense that nothing was gaining any traction.
I had fallen into a trap. The fixed mindset trap.
Carol Dweck is the researcher who pioneered this area. She found that people who were successful were not necessarily the most intelligent or talented, but people who had the right mindset. She defined two types of mindsets. The fixed mindset believes that some characteristics are innate and unchangeable. You have a certain amount of intelligence and though you can learn new skills and improve some things through hard work, you really cannot grow much beyond that. Those are people who have limited success in their chosen fields. Truly successful people subscribed to a growth mindset. In a growth mindset, you believe that everyone has infinite potential, including yourself. That you can learn anything if you not only work hard, but employ the right strategies. In a growth mindset, you believe that your potential is within your control, and you can improve your abilities in whatever area you choose to focus your attention on and have a learner’s attitude.
Now, none of this information was new to me. I had studied mindset when working with my kids. I even read Dweck’s book and subscribed to its principles. The thought that some people have it, and some people don’t is a toxic idea, and it is very much the epitome of a fixed mindset. It just goes to show you that you can feel like your thinking has evolved, but sometimes you can cling to things that no longer serve you, against your better instincts.
The fact that my thinking in this area was kind of borked was first pointed out by my therapist, who gently reminded me that this was bullshit (not in those words exactly, but …) She also helped me understand that it was understandable that I was feeling this way, and that it might largely be a result of burn-out, and I needed some time to recover from these body-blows. I gave myself that time and found that whatever success I was or was not having, I missed the work. I missed putting down words and developing stories. That had to be my motivation.
I still fall back on that fixed mindset thinking sometimes. Because it is actually comforting. If my potential is infinite, then I have work to do. I can level up my craft and develop better marketing strategies to get my work out there. That takes effort. ‘Oh, woe is me I don’t have it’ so <shrug emoji> doesn’t require any effort at all.
The fact is, I might never become a brilliant success financially. And that’s ok. I have an income. I don’t have to make my living from this, which means I don’t have to care a great deal about sales (though it would be nice if this were paying for itself). I can write the books I want to write, the way I want to write them, and say ‘Fuck You!’ to the market. Eventually, readers who are into my type of thing will find me. Or they won’t. The point is, I can define what success means to me.
But I need to leave behind some toxic beliefs. I think many people seem to have it because of the massive amount of work they’ve done behind the scenes, work, and effort we will never be privy to. The old saying goes, ‘It takes 20 years to become an overnight success.’ Maybe it is a growth mindset and a willingness to put in the work.
I highly recommend Dweck’s Book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I don’t know if you can ‘positive think’ your way to success, but you certainly won’t fulfill your infinite potential if you don’t believe it exists.