Steps and Setbacks, I

Over the weekend, at least three friends of mine had major or minor sebacks in areas that were important to them. When that happens (and heaven knows it happens to me all the time!), the initial reaction is shock, disappointment, sadness. All three friends felt that way, at least for a while. But what happens after the initial sadness and disappointment makes all the difference. Do you give up, looking for something or someone to blame, or do you look for alternatives?

One friend had clearly given up, at least for the moment. “Someday,” she wrote on Facebook, “my dreams will come true, but obviously not today.” One was torn between the two reactions: “Does God hate me?” she asked. “Is that why I can’t get” the thing she wants so badly? A third friend, though certainly sad and upset at first, was already thinking about alternatives within a few hours.

What made the difference?

Obviously it’s a mindset issue, at least in part. My friend who quickly started looking for alternatives has a strong growth mindset, and the one who’s given up has a fixed mindset, at least in this area. My friend who’s wavering is somewhere in the middle. There also might be a generational issue; the oldest of the three, who would definitely be classified as a Baby Boomer, happens to have the strongest growth mindset, while the youngest, from the midpoint of Generation Y, has the strongest fixed mindset. Or does it have to do with educational levels, since the most-educated friend has the most growth-oriented mindset? Or maybe it has to do with when each of the three was in school? Or perhaps with the very different spiritual and religious lenses through which these three friends view the world?

The true causes are probably a complex mix of all these factors, plus others I haven’t even thought of.

But I’m less interested in the causes, which are in the past and can’t really be known anyway. But I’m strongly interested in the effects, and in any lessons they may hold for me as I move forward in my own quest. When I was a small child, I didn’t think much about effort or innate factors; I was too busy being a child, doing the exploring and growing that children naturally do. And fortunately for me, I had parents who believed strongly in effort rather than ability as the key to success … probably because both of them, despite their considerable natural talents, had to work hard and overcome a lot of obstacles to reach their own goals. Even when I got the “gifted and talented” label in elementary school, I was fortunate to have a series of teachers who emphasized using your talents over just having them.

Some painful experiences along the way, later in life, caused me to develop a bit of a fixed mindset about myself … an idea that, even though others could grow and change, I might possibly be “stuck” and “unchangeable” in certain areas. That probably kept me in some dysfunctional, painful situations even when I knew in my heart that the time to leave had come. But in the end, my early commitment to growth always seemed to win out. “There’s nothing to do about it!” I’d think … and then, when the time was right, I’d think of something to do about “it.” “Things are hopeless and will only get worse,” whispered that false fixed-mindset voice … and then, in time, I’d find hope and things would get better.

Over the past few days, I’ve felt caught between those two mindsets again, between strong hope and near despair over the immediate future. Are things getting better or worse? Are the team, the place, and the time to build the dream getting closer or farther away? Intellectually, I know they’re getting closer, but emotionally I’m stuck somewhere between hope and despair. In the midst of it all, I’ve signed up for the new Venture Lab course called “Design Thinking Action Lab.” Something about the name, as well as the course description and my previous experiences with “Designing a New Learning Environment” last fall, called to me deeply. I have a feeling the course will help me bring emotion and reason together, see the hope that’s really been there all the time, and take the necessary steps toward building the dream. Already, over the weekend, the team seems to be coming together in ways that have never happened before.

What do you do, builders and sustainers of joyful community, when you run into setbacks? What do you do when you’re caught between hope and despair, when the desired end state is so clear but the next right step is murky? And what do you do to help, encourage, support others in that uncomfortable but common state?

Published in: on July 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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