What we don’t realize in these situations is that our brains want to keep us from jumping off the edge of a metaphorical cliff. Our brains are created to help to keep us safe, but in these instances this safety net is self sabotage. What our brains don’t realize is that we CAN jump off the edge of that cliff, because we have always had wings.
I got called a perfectionist every so often while growing up. I thought it was a badge of honor, to own, but inside I knew it didn't truly describe me.
Perfectionists have an internal drive to be great at everything. They put pressure on themselves even if no one saw their work and they made sure their work was it’s best from start to finish.
I on the other hand only cared about what people saw. I hid an impressive stack of incompletes, rarely got a “clean desk award,” and often got in trouble for my messy bedroom.
I only did my best work at the beginning and then, when it felt like no one would see it, I’d stop trying. While I was called a perfectionist, I was more frequently called “lazy.” I felt like I was both a perfectionist AND lazy, but couldn’t figure out why.
Now I know that I was neither lazy nor a perfectionist. What I actually had was a fixed mindset.
I’ve already received an influx of messages and comments from people identifying with my story and wondering what to do about their fixed mindset, so let’s break down the pieces: how do you actually spot a fixed mindset? Here are some of the key traits-all of which describe who I was perfectly. Is this you?
Are you a perfectionist? Or just struggle with a fixed mindset like me? Comment below if this resonates with you—I’d love to hear your experience!
1. A fixed mindset believes their talent and traits are fixed assets
The real rub comes when these fixed assets are challenged. When you believe you’re permanently “good” at something and then you experience failure, it’s personally devastating. For instance, that time I sang in public and my voice cracked? I had a personal meltdown. I had a crisis because if I thought I was good at music and still failed, was I really just a self-deluded washup? Often people with fixed mindsets experience mid-life crises and other feelings of worthlessness and self doubt after failure.
2. A fixed mindset is risk averse
This person avoids challenges, especially if there’s no guarantee they’ll be successful. My literal worst nightmare was team sports. How could anyone want to play team sports? Even if you’re “good at sports,” you may still lose. Losing is failure. Failure only happens when you’re bad at something.
3. A fixed mindset believes effort is for those not smart enough
You'll likely never catch someone with a fixed mindset studying for tests, prepping for lessons, presentations, or other public performances. Though they appear careless as they brush off studying, etc. the fixed mindset person carries around continual anxiety and inadequacy. Going into a test, knowing you didn’t study is your ultimate personal challenge. But the stakes are high and you can’t be sure you won’t fail. And failure can look like anything less than an A, perfect review, or glowing feedback from your new idea.
4. A fixed mindset covers their flaws and is defensive if they’re pointed out
Flaws may be human, but to the person with a fixed mindset, they are fatal and must be hidden at all times. Often, pointing out flaws in any way to a person with a fixed mindset will result in a diversionary tactic, an over reaction, or even a vicious response, depending on the threat level.
5. A fixed mindset views feedback as a personal attack
This person will sweat more over their reviews than the actual reason they’re being reviewed. In my case, I would be sick to my stomach knowing I had a teacher review of my teaching demonstration, even though I hadn’t been terribly nervous to teach.
I also held a job requiring that I garner feedback every other year from the people I managed. Each year, I would start knowing “this is review year.” It would loom over my entire year, causing me anxiety, and shading everything I did. I would have been scheduled to administer and review these 100 feedback forms twice while in this position and my superiors forgot each time. Each time it was forgotten, I’d be so relieved that I’d celebrate. For a while afterward, I counted it one of my biggest accomplishments in that job that I got through 3 years without the bi-annual feedback forms.
6. A fixed mindset is threatened by the success of others
Since your traits and talents are fixed, you tend to believe that your success is also fixed. If someone else finds themselves experiencing exponential growth, success of any kind, or just happiness apart from their success, you feel both threatened and completely confused. What is their magic sauce and why don't YOU have it??
Isn't this a tiring way to live? If this is you, you feel like your life is a constant game of showcasing strengths and desperately covering weaknesses. You may not have all of these traits, but the ones you do seem debilitating, manifesting themselves in the form of anxiety, headaches, stomach issues, jaw problems, social issues, etc.
It’s hard to be a business owner with a shoulder full of constant doubt and anxiety. In fact, it’s common for people with a fixed mindset to burn out in business ownership after they experience their first difficult form of opposition. So, if you’re a small business owner and need help shifting your mindset, know this: it’s possible! As Marie Forleo often says “everything is figure-outable.”
If you’d like personal help shifting your mindset, I'll be sharing some of my favorite tools for change next. But one of the single most powerful agents of change is having someone walk that journey with you. If you'd like help breaking your fixed mindset, let’s chat! I’d love to walk with you on a journey diving into your mindset, finding and shifting core beliefs about yourself and your business. It has been life changing for me and I know it will be for you too.
Do you need support letting go of your fixed mindset so your business can grow? Here are the most popular ways you can work with me:
Growing up with a fixed mindset meant that, unless I lived a very specific set of circumstances, my life was going to unravel. And, little did I know it, but the unraveling was coming.
Pushing others, but backing myself into a corner
Shortly after Stephen and I got married, Stephen share more of his heart with his business. I grew excited to support his vision, and even pushed him wayyyyy outside of his comfort zone. Shortly after Stephen started feeling a bit more confident in his business, he bought me a camera and booked his first wedding with me as his second shooter.
All of a sudden all that encouragement and pushing I did was back on me and I was backed into a corner! I swallowed my pride and took on this ONE WEDDING, telling him that I felt better behind the scenes. I could answer his emails and keep track of his numbers. I set up a few spreadsheets, and kept up with his inbox pretty well, until he saw my emails and began weighing in on how they were worded. I immediately told him I couldn't keep up with his emails and sent them back to him.
This kept happening. I’d try something, it wouldn’t go as planned, and I’d write it off as a “never again” task. If Stephen brought up trying a new marketing idea, or testing out a new client response, I would get so defensive that I’d start crying within a minute of the conversation, leaving him completely bewildered.
Despite this difficulty, we began booking at a fast pace, raising our prices aggressively, and still finding ourselves at max capacity. I figured I didn't need to work on these glaring personal issues because I had bigger things to do.
How my fixed mindset met its limits
A few years into this venture, I lost my main job, which became the first part of my unraveling. My education job had been safe, easy, and what everyone else thought I was “meant to do.” Losing that job as I sat with a friend in the Target Starbucks made my head spin. I was terrified to tell anyone I was no longer a teacher. It’s what I was “supposed” to do-I had a degree in it!
Due to the high number of bookings we already had for the following year, I decided to test out the concept of working for the business full time. I quickly realized that I’d have to do the tasks I feared most and assumed that I’d figure it out or make Stephen keep doing them. But figuring it out turned into procrastination, anxiety, sleeplessness, chronic headaches, jaw clenching and teeth grinding, and a constant stream of emotional highs and lows.
I was resting on the laurels of my husband’s hard work, marketing for us and planning our strategies, things which he passed off to me, not knowing that I was avoiding them out of intense fear. I didn’t realize it, but my fixed mindset was running on borrowed time and about a year into my full time business ownership, the debtors came calling.
The year that my mindset met it's limits, I had big plans. We had 20 beautiful weddings on the books, and I was going to land a ton of blog features to gain publicity as my main marketing plan. As we photographed beautiful weddings and neared 6 figures, the numbers looked good, but my one trick marketing pony wasn't working.
It was our biggest year yet and I was positive I’d have a lot of press surrounding our work. As that year came to a close, I began to panic. My one-trick marketing plan hadn’t worked and we had zero weddings booked for the following year after our largest fiscal year ever. HOW HAD THIS HAPPENED???
I’d wake up daily feeling this deep sense of inadequacy, spend my days spinning in circles, and wake up in the middle of the night panicked about the year to come. I started looking up grocery store jobs and substitute teaching again.
What caused my fixed mindset to unravel
Here’s what happened: Stephen’s hard work had an expiration date. It wasn’t going to last forever, but I was coasting on his marketing groundwork, trying to ignore the fact that I needed to learn some important skills before time would run out. But I didn't. And time did indeed run out.
I was ignoring marketing because I didn't understand it. If I didn't immediately understand it, it meant I was "bad at it" and would need to put forth effort. I was too scared to learn and try strategies in marketing and as I approached this expiration time frame, I grew paralyzed at the idea of failure. So I made it my practice to “sit really still and breathe.” No, it wasn’t a meditation practice, it was all I felt I could do without taking risks. With the pressures weighing down from all sides, I felt so trapped that the most I could do was just breathe and not move. If I so much as twitched, everything would come crashing down on me.
I finally confessed my panic to Stephen and told him about our booking issues and how they related to my avoidance of the things I couldn't understand. Now he knew what I had done and we were on the same page. As we were beginning to brainstorm solutions, my life turned upside down and that conversation had to wait. And here’s where the rest of the unravelling happened.
A season of loss and rebuilding
As we began the new year, I was ready to toast to the baby we expected to bring into the world in August. But instead, I was met with a miscarriage. During the process, my doctor and I found that I had likely had previous miscarriages and just didn’t know what they were. I was shocked and devastated. Shocked that this had actually happened, and devastated that my body had failed me.
Shortly thereafter, I lost a business deal and friendship that left me heartbroken. The business deal promised to provide a year’s worth of income and the friendship had been a deep and sweet one. My life had again unraveled and I was in the midst of a depression. Again, I felt like everything I touched was falling apart and, if I just sat still, nothing bad would happen anymore.
It was at this time that I was at my lowest. I was a failure in business, my body had failed me, and I couldn’t identify who I was and what my purpose was. I ate for comfort and gained 30 pounds during my season of heartbreak. I felt like I had nothing else. It’s honestly still so raw to talk about this dark time in my life. I feel so sad for that girl and still carry her pain.
But it was during this quiet season that God picked up the pieces and began rebuilding. I hired a business coach and began seeing a counselor. During the dark, quiet times, I began reading, journaling, listening to podcasts, and learning. And I began feeling sparks of interest again. I have what I call my “ugly purple notebook” that I have lugged all over my house for the better part of a year, filled with prayers, anguish, heartbreak, to-do lists, panic, more to-do lists, but slowly, it started filling with hope, interest, excitement, ideas, and plans. As I learned and grew, I started seeing my depressive fog lift. I began learning how to identify and shift my mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
Now, for the first time in my life, I’m bringing in money all by myself! I’m marketing not one, but two businesses on my own! I’m coaching other creatives, feel completely alive in what I do, and have something to say. I’ve learned to grow, assess old habits creeping in, and feel confident stating my value to potential clients. I am so deeply proud of myself and thankful for the journey God has given me. That I can say that I’m proud of myself is a sign of growth in and of itself! Now, I’m the one bringing up marketing strategy conversations with Stephen and, if he points out a weak area, I’m not dissolving into tears, I’m instead strategizing a plan to grow and learn from it.
My story is one many people share. In upcoming blog posts, I'm going to lay out the key identifiers of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, my favorite resources for change, and steps you can take to shift your mindset. If you identify with anything I’ve shared so far, please shoot me an email-I’d love to hear your story.