Cross-country skiing is way easier than downhill. There’s really not much to it. Despite that fact, I had some trouble staying upright when faced with a downhill. Neither my husband nor my younger son fell a single time, while my older son and I became experts in art of the rolling like a turtle to getting back on one’s skies. (No, you’re not getting a photo of that. No one should see a photo of that.)
I didn’t let the falls get to me. The trail was beautiful and the weather was perfect. I wished that I had better mastery, but I remained happy. I believed that if I scheduled a lesson or watched some YouTube videos, I could master the downhill without falling.
This brought to mind an article I’d read recently in The Atlantic. In the article, Megan McArdle started with a humorous take on writers as the worst procrastinators, but she moved on to a serious and thought-provoking commentary on achievement mentality and talent orientation. Her description of psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on fixed mind-set individuals versus growth mind-set individuals resonated with me.
Dweck said,”…the people who dislike challenges think that talent is a fixed thing that you’re either born with or not. The people who relish them think that it’s something you can nourish by doing stuff you’re not good at.”
When it came to writing, I was decidedly in the fixed mind-set camp. McArdle’s article helped me see why rejection had been crippling to me — I saw it as a statement about limited talent rather than an opportunity to grow. Dweck’s research also helped me understand why others writers seem to let rejection roll off — they experienced it as a challenge to improve.
What was cool was that while reading the article, I understood I could change. In fact, I have changed. After all, I’m not a millennial just entering the workforce. I’m well past that stage and I have decades of experience to remind me that change is possible.
While cross-country skiing today, though, I realized something new about the ideas in that article. While I may have held a fixed mind-set in terms of writing, I did not think that way in terms of many other aspects of my life. When I was learning to cook, I failed miserably again and again. (Ask my husband about the first time I cooked a whole chicken. Then again – don’t. It might trigger his gag reflex.) I love food and I had to feed myself so eventually I learned how to cook. Now, I’m good at it. If you don’t believe me, ask my father-in-law. Or just come over for dinner.
Okay, you’re saying, cooking is obviously a learned skill. I’ll give you another example: running. Running is an area where I have some natural talent. For a long time, people have tried to draw comparisons between my commitment to running and my commitment to writing: if you had a bad race, they’d say, you wouldn’t give up running. You’d figure out what was going on and you’d work to fix it. That is true, but it never felt like a parallel to writing and now I know why. I never looked at my running from a fixed talent mind-set. Even though it was something I was good at, I believed that I could continue to develop further (until age sets in, but it hasn’t yet!).
Now I can see writing in the same light. I know that when someone finds something in my writing that isn’t working, I can go back and try again. I write the same scene several different times until I find the one that works best for the story. I can deepen emotional moments or sharpen dialogue. I can throw out whole chapters and write new ones. My written word is not carved in stone. There is no pressure for it to be perfect the first time or even the third or the thirty-third. (Well, okay, it needs to be pretty shiny by the thirty-third attempt.) The point is that I know I can improve and that allows me to feel more energized around the writing, more playful.
As for the cross-country skiing? I love the push, glide, push, glide and because I love it and because I hate falling down, I’ll keep working on improving my approach to the downhill. After all, I know that I can improve. And I love a challenge.