I remember chatting with fellow designers at a tech conference when someone said, “I’d love to have the skillset to build cool projects, but I don’t think I could learn to code at this point.” I remember feeling a little uneasy; I knew this person was a disciplined, creative thinker and could learn to code if she put her mind to it. I didn’t respond to her that day, but the scene stayed with me for years.
Later I realized that her belief conflicted with my view of how individuals learn new skills and approach challenges in life. I was the first person in my family to pursue higher education and a professional career, so I didn’t have a role model or anyone to guide me on navigating these spaces. I only had my curiosity, the desire to learn and grow, and the belief that I could do it.
A few years after the event, I stumbled upon a TED talk called the power of believing that you can improve. Psychologist Carol Dweck beautifully articulated the thoughts and beliefs I’ve adopted under the concept of growth mindset - the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems.
In her book “Mindset: The new psychology of success”, Dweck described two ways of thinking about problems outside of one's circle of competence: (1) A fixed mindset; seeing problems as unsolvable and unworthy of effort if outside of our comfort zone, and (2) a growth mindset; approaching challenges as opportunities to learn and expand our capacity. In her studies, children either showed excitement or stress when faced with challenging problems, indicating that we naturally fall into one of these two categories. But more importantly, her research showed that, given the time and practice, education on these ideas could help shift the fixed mindset tendency into a more growth-oriented one.
The concept of a growth mindset is now commonplace among high-performing professionals, specifically in the tech industry. Since the landscape changes quickly, employers look for talented individuals who are comfortable learning and growing with the job. If you’re considering a career change into this dynamic industry, the earlier you can embrace a growth mindset, the more likely you will get where you want to go in your career.
So how can you begin to shift your mindset? Here are four tips to get you started:
1. Clarify your purpose. Changing careers is a challenge, so first get clear about your “why”. Consider what factors are driving your decision and how they align with your core values. Is your goal to build a better financial future or quality of life for you and your family? Is it to help you become a role model for your community? Is it to have more flexibility to live life on your own terms? Consider how a career change will impact all areas of your life and weigh if the change will be worth the effort. Keep your “why” in the back of your mind and consider having it written somewhere visible - you may need it as a reminder as you make critical career decisions.
2. Prioritize process over outcome. Think about where you are and where you want to be, and craft personal and professional goals for yourself that will get you closer to the job you desire. Consider using SMART goals to clarify your intentions. SMART goals are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound” ensuring your ideas are defined and that you have the necessary resources to chart progress and be successful. After you have your goals, strategize how you will tackle the challenges ahead. How will you prioritize learning and enjoy yourself in the process? How will you track and celebrate progress? Consider what you might learn in the process of beginning a new career and be prepared to embrace the uncertainty. As you get closer to reaching your goals, remember that no matter how windy your path may be, each step will teach you lessons that will professionally serve you.
3. Redefine your relationship with effort. Anything valuable in life requires considerable effort. When facing a complex challenge, move away from your inner critic telling you you’re not good enough. Instead, notice how challenges create opportunities to expand your skills. If you struggle with imposter syndrome or self-confidence, this mind shift won’t be easy. Still, every time you take action despite your fear it will grow your self-confidence and make tasks more effortless. With time, you will see your efforts as steps toward mastery rather than difficult challenges getting in your way.
4. Reframe failures as learning opportunities. Failure is an inevitable part of life, but if you’re willing to persevere, failures will be lessons and not reasons to quit. Keep this in mind and understand that you’re on a learning curve. When facing failures, ask yourself what lessons you can learn from the experience that may serve you later. Each failure will get you a step closer to the answer and will empower you to take the necessary risks involved in innovation.
Using these tips has served me well in my journey. I now work with intelligent, kind, and respectful people on creative and engaging challenges every day. I feel inspired knowing our mission-driven organization positively impacts the lives of today’s tech professionals and tomorrow’s tech leaders. Without a growth mindset, my path would look very different and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I hope fellow designers and others considering a career change will experiment with this way of thinking and allow growth, rather than fear, fuel their professional roadmap.
Thanks to Erin Baldwin Draper for editing drafts of this article.