The growth mindset for working dads in 2021

Writer and speaker Mark Fielding reckons a growth mindset can help working dads succeed in 2021

small plant growth bud growing through sand or snow


As the gratefully received curtain begins to descend on this annus horribilis, I want to go over some common misconceptions about work, talent, failure and mindset and how, as 2020 begins to fade into the rear view mirror, Working dads such as you can use the fallout to your advantage. You can pivot in your career, enhance your CV, think bigger, believe higher, listen more intently and make 2021 the best year of your personal and professional life.

Some common misconceptions

Human qualities are innate. Wrong. Personality and abilities can develop over time and, most vitally for old dads like you and I, at any age. You can teach an old dog Java programming, WordPress or quantum physics. Unfortunately we are mostly led to believe qualities come naturally. This bias encourages you to focus on the skill that you are ‘natural’ at – in the office this may be a particular software, negotiation strategy or HR policy. In your family life it could be a hobby, an emotional reaction or a type of cooking – at the expense of other skills, hobbies, foods and traits.

Intelligence, creativity and artistic ability can all be developed over time. Management, Python, French, HTML, marketing, persuasion, leadership, social media and everything in-between can, with hard work, an enjoyment of failure, practice, and a willingness to learn and adapt, become part of your repertoire.

I failed. I must be bad at “insert skill”. Wrong again. Everything can be changed and altered, including reactions to fear, setback and failure.

Johnny cash said, “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past.”

Drew Houston, Dropbox founder and CEO said “Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”

Most poignantly, the king of the production line Henry Ford said, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

What Henry Ford has just explained is the growth mindset: the belief that qualities can change and that we can develop our intelligence and abilities over time; that failure to be embraced. The opposite is a fixed mindset – the (more common) belief, that intelligence and abilities are innate and static and failure is the end, not the means.

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

As you’re reading, you probably already know this; indeed, you may be rolling your eyes and saying “not another article on growth mindset. Why does everyone think they are presenting their own TED talk these days?”

I hear you, and I think you’re right. But I also believe your professional and personal life can be divided into the part where you learnt about growth mindset and the part where you acted on this knowledge.

Knowing the path and walking the path, to use a well-worn Buddhist analogy.

The growth mindset is the highest-leverage investment you can make to how you view the world, how you approach learning and your predisposition to adaptation and failure.

But there is a very large asterisk hanging over our heads.

Sold much too often as an easily digestible panacea; as a simple tool to open up the world of more satisfying work and home life, the growth mindset is anything but a quick “do this, do that, click your fingers and you’ll have your heart’s desire” concept. This actually contradicts the very essence of a growth mindset. Before we go on, let’s all agree on one universal truth: developing a growth mindset is not easy.

This isn’t to come across as unnecessarily harsh, just realistic.

The path

You can do it, but you need to understand the path is long and filled with failure and disappointment. Not only that but the very way you look at challenges, resilience, grit and persistence will all be held furiously under the magnifying glass. You will have to admit your limitations. A growth mindset does not ignore talent, ability or steer around Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hour rule. We can’t all be astronauts.

Building the scaffolding of a growth mindset is about changing your internal narrative, adopting new habits and thought patterns and replacing your operating system with a more versatile version. This could mean erasing a lifetime’s worth of bloat ware and spam. Rewiring the neurological make up of how you actually think. A Venn diagram and a mind map alone will not foster metamorphosis. It is called lifelong learning for a reason. Quick fixes rarely produce lasting change.

But that is why you are reading

Now we’ve all got that off our chests, where do you begin?

At the beginning, of course.

Context, culture, and environment matter; your mindset is shaped by the people around you. It’s time to update your network, diversify your input and find new and inspiring people to motivate you. One of the upsides of 2020 is the need to stay online. This actually makes it easier to expand your network and find exciting thought leaders and mentors. Many of the social barriers of the ‘old world’ no longer exist.

“Your input equals your output.”

Build your online world with people who encourage you to question how you think. As you are doing here on Working Dads. Join groups on LinkedIn, follow those who already know, and listen to podcasts and interviews with the exalted ones. Scour YouTube for knowledge and insight from people who have already climbed the mindset mountain.

Above all, join the conversation.

Further Reading

(I’m assuming you have read Mindset by Carol Dweck.) As an aside, I will never place links to books. The onus is on you to research them. In doing so you will inevitably discover alternatives and discourse more to your liking and reading interests/abilities. Something as simple as looking for a book is part of a growth mindset. It is active participation, not passive link clicking.

Bounce – Matthew Syed

AntiFragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Risk – Dan Gardner

Outliers  – Malcolm Gladwell



Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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