Think You’re “Just No Good” at Some Things? Maybe That’s the Real Problem.

Thinking your talents, skills, and preferences are “just the way they are” is one of the leading indicators of stagnation and wasted talent.

It normally looks like this…

You might say:

  • I’m not a good singer.
  • I can’t learn to code.
  • I’m a poor public speaker.
  • I’m not a social person.
  • I’m not a morning person.
  • I’m not organized.
  • I’m a procrastinator.

To which I say:

  • Nope
  • Nope
  • Nope
  • Nope
  • Nope
  • You get the idea…

(NOTE: I say this to myself too… We all do this, and I call BS on all of us.)

There’s Almost Nothing You Can’t Do or Learn

Unless you are functionally unable to perform a certain task, there’s no legitimate reason you can’t do it. What does “functionally unable” mean? Here are a few examples: Generally, men can’t carry babies in their wombs, dwarfs can’t slam dunk, and blind people can’t tell you what color a painting is. (But I say “generally” because I’m always open to being amazed.)

Yet, most of us tell ourselves we’re simply not good at X, Y, or Z, when in reality we’ve simply never tried. Or if we did try we didn’t have the grit to push through the expected fumbles and failures that coming with trying anything for the first time.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck has dedicated her career to researching this phenomenon. She says all of us are somewhere on a spectrum between having a Growth-Mindset and a Fixed-Mindset.

To summarize her research:

  • Believing you are capable of growing, learning, and becoming competent at new things is one of the greatest indicators of success and happiness.
  • Believing you are not capable of growing, learning, and becoming capable at new things is one of the greatest indicators of stagnation and depression.

“But, haven’t you said we are supposed to play to our strengths?”

Yes, I have. And I will again. But these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

There’s a difference between having the grit to develop comfort and competence in something and having the passion to develop mastery of it. Not everyone can become a professional basketball player, but just about anyone can learn to dribble and play some street ball.

To succeed, we need to be able to do both — to be competent in many things and to master at least one. All of us have the ability to try new things, develop new competencies, and hone new skills. And all of us have the ability to master something.

The best case scenario is to be a Jack of All Trades and Master of Some.

Do you know anyone with impressive but wasted talent?

I do. Artists, musicians, coders. People who are hands down the most talented and masterful practitioners in their fields, but sadly they can’t get out of their own way. They can’t get organized. They miss deadlines. They fail to show up for auditions.

And they say, “I’m just not good at being organized.” Or, “I’m not good dealing with the details.

Bullshit. We ALL need to have the grit to perform the supporting behaviors that help us bring the skills we’re passionate about to light. (Yes, some artists solve this by hiring managers, but many of them end up as tragic figures anyway. Just ask Amy Winehouse.)

The differences between a Fixed and Growth Mindset are stark:



Have you self-diagnosed as a Fixed-Mindset person and now you’re freaking out?

Don’t worry — you CAN become more Growth Mindset oriented. Here’s how:

  1. Write Down 10 Times You’ve Overcome Adversity. At the core of the Growth Mindset is knowing that you can do just about anything you set your mind to. And what better way to snap out of feeling like your options, intelligence, and abilities are fixed than to recall all the times you demonstrated that they, in fact, are not fixed. Every time you’ve learned something new, or persevered in the face of adversity, you’ve demonstrated a Growth Mindset.
  2. Always Be Learning Something New. I spent most of my 20’s learning Spanish, motorcycle maintenance, and political strategy. In my 30’s I learned entrepreneurship, business strategy, and executive coaching. In my 40’s I’m learning to write so far. What are you learning right now? Pick up a new language. Learn to code. Take Tango classes. Do something outside your comfort zone. The thrill of learning new things can be addicting. Embrace it!
  3. Realize when you are using “Fixed Mindset” language. What we say to ourselves is what we believe about ourselves. Anytime you start a statement with a black and white statement of your skills or abilities in a certain domain, you are driving yourself deeper into a Fixed Mindset. This includes anything like, “I’m not a runner. I’m no good at Chess. I’m not organized. I don’t like taking risks.”
  4. Shout Down the Fixed Mindset with Growth Mindset Language.(below is taken verbatim from Dweck’s site):

When trying something new —

  • THE FIXED-MINDSET says “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.”
  • THE GROWTH-MINDSET answers, “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn to with time and effort.”
  • FIXED MINDSET: “What if you fail — you’ll be a failure”
  • GROWTH MINDSET: “Most successful people had failures along the way.”

When you hit a setback —

  • FIXED MINDSET: “This would have been a snap if you really had talent.”
  • GROWTH MINDSET: “That is so wrong. Basketball wasn’t easy for Michael Jordan and science wasn’t easy for Thomas Edison. They had a passion and put in tons of effort.

When you face criticism —

  • FIXED MINDSET: “It’s not my fault. It was something or someone else’s fault.”
  • GROWTH MINDSET: “If I don’t take responsibility, I can’t fix it. Let me listen — however painful it is– and learn whatever I can.”

Good luck! Tell me how it goes.