For all the talk about learning new skills, studying, or getting work experience, often we don’t need more inputs to see huge returns on our career growth.
What we need most is a shift in mindset. In fact, we need many mental shifts when it comes to how we’re viewing the world.
There’s a term we like to use at Praxis called deschooling. Deschooling is a process by which you gradually break free of certain modes of thought that most people adopt in school so that you can succeed in the real world.
These mindsets make up the standard operating systems for most people, and it’s why we have trouble transforming into happy, flourishing individuals.
The first step to freeing yourself from them is to recognize what they are and how they affect your life.
Here are five of the most vicious.
The Permission Mindset
I’ve recently started holding calls with young people who have questions about college, their life, or the next steps in their career. The thing I’ve noticed is that a sizeable number of them already have the answers to the questions they ask me.
Our conversation might begin under the guise of “how can I do this project?” but what they’re asking is “am I allowed to do this project? Do I have your approval?”
The answer I always give is “no you don’t. And you don’t need it. In fact, you don’t need anyone’s approval.”
Society puts young people in a school system that tells them “you need these marks from these professors,” and “you need these certifications and these accolades.”
For example, you may want to start a blog, but you don’t, not because you don’t have the skills (even though you tell yourself this) but because you don’t feel “qualified.” Another is staying in college even when you want to leave because you think an official seal of approval is a must to enter the workplace.
In his article 6 Harsh Truths that Will Make You a Better Person, David Wong tell us why it doesn’t make sense for us to act like this. The world, he says, only really cares about what it can get from you. It cares only about the value you can create, not the permission you have from a third party.
Just think about the most successful people you know or know of. They’re probably a bit rebellious. They probably did something out of the ordinary. Who gave them permission to do that? Did anyone? Or did they just do it?
The Preparation Mindset
I talked with a college student from the Ukraine while I was in Prague recently who told me that she planned to go to graduate school in the United States, get her MBA, work in investment banking for five years, all so she could learn to start a business.
Next, I spoke with another young lady who was studying journalism back in the US. When I asked her what she’d written, she seemed confused. Outside of a few college essays, she’d written nothing.
What we see in these two stories are examples of the Preparation Mindset. We put off our future goals because we think we need further study before we can get started. Sometimes this is true, but the counterintuitive truth is that often the best preparation happens during the act of creation.
Telling ourselves, we’re a “student” becomes a convenient way of postponing the responsibility of actually building something while still allowing ourselves to feel like we’re working towards an end goal.
Years go by, and we eventually realize that preparation was never possible. The term doesn’t even apply to a professional realm where the landscape is rapidly changing. You just have to get started and learn while doing.
Learning by doing is why Praxis participants apprentice at a startup during the program rather than waiting until after they’ve graduated. Rather than spending years studying marketing, for example, they just jump right into it. While many are skeptical when they start, they realize soon that nothing could have made them ready.
To illustrate further how this mindset affects our lives, consider this.
Imagine that we have two college students who want to be journalists. One of them spends their college-aged years in preparation made. They write little and spend most of their time focusing on homework and passing their tests.
The other one spends her time writing for the student paper and blogging on her site. She’s active on Twitter and submits dozens of articles to third-party sites, publishing one or two. Most of her stuff isn’t that great, but there are a few standout pieces.
Who do you think is better prepared for a career in journalism at the end of those four years? Who do you think is most likely to be hired?
Don’t wait. Stop excusing yourself because you’re a student. Start that business now if you can or do something on a smaller scale. If you want to be a marketer, apprentice in marketing at a startup. If you want to write, start a blog.
The Scarcity Mindset
Maybe a coworker does a task that was your responsibility at the office, and you get offended. Maybe a friend gets an opportunity, and you feel a twinge of envy. Or you get a job that you hate but it pays okay, and you’re terrified of leaving it to try something new.
Whatever it is, you’ve adopted a scarcity mindset.
This mindset views everything in life as a fixed sum. It prevents you from achieving your goals because it puts you at odds with other people and it makes you blind to new opportunities that present themselves.
Let’s look at the example of the office more closely. There are two ways to handle a situation in which a coworker does something that you were responsible for.
Most people get mad. They see the colleague as a threat because they view opportunities to create value as scarce. This mindset makes them seem small minded in their desire to protect their small little pot of gold, and in turn, they miss opportunities to create a larger pot for themselves.
People with an abundance mindset don’t do this. They see the bigger picture — “the task got done, now I have more time to do something more valuable.”
They’re thankful for every opportunity they have to check off one more thing and move on to the next challenge
By taking this approach they’re able to achieve huge successes because they’re looking at the end goal, not who get’s credit for what step along the way.
Likewise, a person who sees opportunity as scarce will limit themselves to the first thing that comes their way. They’ll be terrified of jumping ship into the unknown because they don’t see opportunity as something that is readily available to us. With this approach, they’ll stagnate in dead end jobs and mediocre lives because they tell themselves they’d better hang on to their share of the fixed pie.
When you see abundance, giving up what you currently have doesn’t scare you. You know there’s more and that all you need to do is create it. You’ll take on new challenges that push you to heights you couldn’t imagine because you know the pie is always expanding.
The Externalist Mindset
The world is random chance. People are privileged, or they aren’t privileged. Life is unfair. Shit happens.
Or so the Externalist Mindset would have you believe.
The idea here is that external forces have a larger impact on the course of our lives than our actions.
Here’s the thing – there’s some truth to that. Shit does happen. But if we let our predominant narrative be that of a malevolent universe we become paralyzed from action.
In the book “Living With the Himalayan Masters,” a guru tells a story of how his master taught him to break free of this mindset. Without warning, his master tightly grabbed hold of a tree and cried out: “Help me! This tree trunk has caught my body.” The student tried and tried to remove him from the tree but he couldn’t. Finally, his master lets go. He told the guru that more often than not, we are to blame for the hold external forces have over us.
What’s the solution? Let go.
Most external circumstances are nothing but distractions. If you hate the education system, don’t blame the system and wait for it to change, just quit and do something else.
When the job market sucks, don’t wait for it to change, just create a new job.
If life throws you curveballs, adjust your angle and swing anyways.
The Perfection Mindset
My colleague TK Coleman described this well during a recent conversation I had with him.
He said picture yourself in a jungle. You hear something rustling in the bushes and the fear sets in. You’re sweating more than you ever have and want to puke. The chances of survival are slim.
What do you do? You run anyways.
The Perfection Mindset tells us the opposite. It says we need to feel perfect before we can do something. We need our esteem in order. We need to be free of distractions. Instead of acting we make excuse after excuse why we can’t do something until X comes into place and more often than not, we never end up doing it.
I meet young kids all the time who tell me that all they need to do is get away from college and things will be fine. The truth is that things won’t be okay. You won’t magically be happy or fulfilled by leaving school, and things will never be perfect.
Your mental state, your relationships, your finances, and your health will always be distractions. When one problem goes away, another can appear.
The successful person pushes past the hardships of life and creates anyway. In the process, they realize those hardships often start to fall away the more and more they do.