Turning Failure into Growth

January 19, 2020

Turning Failure into Growth by Adopting a Growth Mindset | Best Life Book Club by Happy As Annie discusses Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

This week, we discuss Excuses 4-6 of Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, and I have a theory to run by you guys: adopting a growth mindset may be the solution to the all too common and crippling fear of failure.

Now, on to how to adopt a growth mindset.

Fixed and Growth Mindset

I present to you my personal arch-nemesis, Excuse #6: “I’m terrified of failure.” I blame this fear on society. More specifically, our society’s collective fixed mindset. If you are familiar with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets, feel free to skip the next couple paragraphs. If not, allow me to briefly fill you in.

Fixed mindset, bad!

A fixed mindset assumes that we are all born with an inherent and basically predetermined, or fixed, amount of talent and intelligence. In other words, we are naturally smart or naturally gifted and our successes and failures are evidence of these inherent abilities, or lack thereof.

Growth mindset, good!

A growth mindset, on the other hand, assumes that our natural intelligence or talent can develop, or grow, through hard work and effort. Failure, then, merely demonstrates an unsuccessful attempt or strategy rather than our lack of intrinsic talent or smarts. A growth mindset is immensely healthier, as it fosters a sense of curiosity and adventure, boosts self-esteem and resilience, and is much easier to work with in a team or company setting.

I would argue that our society, however, has for so long glorified geniuses and prodigies and natural talents that we have adopted a collective fixed mindset and are thus terrified to admit failure. In fact, I think we hesitate to confess how hard we work even when we are successful. Why? Because anybody can try hard and succeed. There’s nothing special about that. And if you try hard and fail? There’s nothing more pathetic than that.

Or so the story goes.

With a fixed mindset, we care most about saving face.

As a professor, and longtime student before that, I see this fixed mindset all the time in a classic academic phenomenon I like to call the Undercover Studier. The Undercover Studier is the student that secretly studies super hard but tells everybody that they didn’t. Why would anyone do such a thing? Because anybody can pay attention in class, take copious notes, study for hours, and then ace a test. That’s just natural cause and effect. There’s nothing special about that, we tell ourselves. But if you are so naturally smart that you can pass without even trying? Those chosen few are surely touched by the hand of God. Now that is special. That is sexy. And who doesn’t want to be special and sexy?

The flip side, of course, is even more damaging to our egos. If you pay attention in class, take copious notes, study for hours, and still don’t ace the test? Then there’s got to be something wrong with you, we tell ourselves, and that’s humiliating by our societal standards. So, the Undercover Studier will hide their flash cards and color coded notes and cower into class on test day, all for the potentiality that they don’t ace the test. Then, thanks to this charade, they can blame their failure on their alleged lack of effort. Because, like I said, what’s more pathetic than trying hard and still failing?

It’s all about saving face. And saving face has fixed mindset written all over it. Rachel Hollis observes it in our impulse to keep our goals and hard work a secret: “The public can be surprised and delighted by any success you have. They never know what you’re working on, so any achievement feels like a happy little coincidence, fate smiling down on you again.”

With a fixed mindset, successful people are just lucky or special, so we don’t bother to try.

Think about it. We sing along to songs we imagine were written effortlessly by a lyrical genius noodling around on a piano one evening. We watch ridiculously coordinated athletes on the court or on the field and call them “beasts,” as if they came out of the womb dunking and tackling. But Michael Jordan failed to make it onto his high school’s varsity basketball team the first time around. And every last member of One Direction lost as a solo contestant on The X Factor before Simon Cowell banded them together for a second shot at fame. Yes, even Harry Styles was a big fat televised fail.

And here’s what else! Rachel doesn’t talk about this but I think it has definitely played a role in my personal excuses not to try something big and scary: If we adopt a fixed mindset and think that the winners in the world are just lucky and naturally gifted, it gives us a safe, lazy, and blame-free excuse not to try.

Mic drop.

So, is it time to swap these fairytales of exclusivity and a charmed breed of humans with more realistic narratives of empowerment and the inevitable success of strategic effort? Or is this story necessary to prevent heartache and disappointment? How can we feel more comfortable being transparent about all the nose to the grindstone work that has led to our victories, even if that means opening ourselves up to vulnerability and judgment (see Excuse #8 coming up)?

Rachel insists that we “let them see the mistakes! Let them watch the missteps! Let them see you dust yourself off again and again and again and keep going!”

What do you think? Are you ready to let them see all that?

Want to keep reading?

If you missed it, check out last week’s discussion about Excuses 1-3 from Girl, Stop Apologizing.


  • Reply Catie Long January 19, 2020 at 10:53 am

    I SO agree with you when you say you blame it on society. Yassss! I think we are fortunate to see so many badass women out there killing it though; how different the world is today than it was years ago for women! However, it’s a balance between seeing these successes as inspiring or as disheartening. There are certain people out there who are handed it all, but we cannot forget the ones that have worked so hard to get where they are today! I always like to think of Olympic athletes as opposed to other kinds of celebs. You know to be in the Olympics, you have to be the real deal!

    Rachel Hollis talks in her media about, “falling forward.” We are all going to fail at things; everyone starts out as a beginner. What’s the other one she’s got out there too, something along the lines of being brave enough to suck until you get better? We see people killing it on our social media feeds and we want to be like them. However, we are scared to try because we know we aren’t anywhere near their level. It’s so hard to remember that they were once a beginner too! They have failed many, many times that we were never aware of, but they fell forward meaning that they failed, but failed in the right direction by getting up and trying again.

    For a long time I wanted to try yoga. I didn’t know much about it, but was under the impression I could kill two birds with one stone; get some exercise and relax. I was nervous because I didn’t know what I was exactly getting into and I would probably be very bad at it. I tried to convince my friends to go, but like me, it made them nervous so they declined. This led me to decline my idea too. It wasn’t until I was reading Rachel Hollis for the first time that I remembered this former idea and decided to look for a local class and seek recommendations. I sat on the idea for a couple of weeks after I made up my mind as to which studio I wanted to try and then a glaring post popped up on my Facebook feed: TEACHER SPECIAl. Classes for very cheap. First one free. If not now, when?

    I now practice yoga two or more times a week in class. I went, I tried my best, I realized how nice the instructor was, and that there were all ages and levels attending. We bent, creaked, wobbled, and giggled and I made it through just fine. I’ve been doing this for eight months now and have improved in my strength and balance. My instructor even invited me to attend a professional yoga seminar in a large city with her (I had to unfortunately decline, but the invitation made me feel good)! If I hadn’t have tried, I would be missing out on something that brings me lots of joy. TRY THE THING!

    • Reply Annie A. January 23, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      Catie, I do yoga semi-regularly, but the only two classes I ever go to are restorative and chill classes, which are the slower paced, easier classes. And lately, I’ve been wanting to get more cardio so I’ve been secretly wanting to try their more energetic flow classes but I’m so nervous about it! I have so much anxiety around exercise–what if it’s too hard? what if I can’t do it? what if I feel like passing out and have to stop? what if I get embarrassed? Ugh, I should just do it already and get it over with. I will report back! xo

  • Reply Malia January 20, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    There’s a spot in my daily journal to write a daily affirmation. I write everyday to not care what others think and that I am enough. I feel like I am constantly tying to prove my worth. Believing is such a battle!

    • Reply Annie A. January 23, 2020 at 2:55 pm

      I love that affirmation and am right there with you, Malia!

  • Reply Adrine January 20, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    I face this everyday of my life in different aspects of my life. Afraid of failing as a mother, as a wife, as a businesswoman, and so on. I have worked for my company for almost 9 years and every year I tell myself This is the year I will wrote my business plan and start my own business but that fear of failure always holds me back. I am comfortable in my current job because I’ve been there for so long and am good at what I do so the chance of failure is minimal. But I agree with the growth mindset. If we can all practice that In reality, we can perhaps overcome this fear of failure.

    • Reply Annie A. January 23, 2020 at 2:59 pm

      Yeah! Like, maybe if we just go out and fail a bunch of times over and over again we’ll finally just get over ourselves.

      Also, maybe we can have a business plan date! It’ll be an excuse to hang out, it will get you to at least start yours, and you can teach me how to actually do one. 🙂

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