“Go ahead, take a book. That’s what they’re there for,” says the HR Manager.
“Really?!” I blurt out.
“Yep! You can even keep it if you want to,” they say, smiling like they’d just given me the most expensive birthday present ever.
Honestly, I was only looking for a way to kill time. I had no idea the library at my 9 to 5 would make me a better artist, completely changing my life.
The year was 2014 and I was leaving a toxic work environment for a job with higher prospects. It seemed like everything my new gig did was magical compared to my old one. To top it off I was going to have less responsibility, but somehow still make the same amount of money I used to. It was like winning the lottery.
I felt like I was awakening to a whole new world of possibility.
And that feeling was amplified, because, at the same time, I was coming out of a lifelong depression. It seems like your life goes through a lot of changes when you finally address an overbearing mental illness. Go figure.
It must have been serendipity though because my improving mental health opened me up to new ideas — right before I was hit with a big one.
The first few books I got from HR’s library were classic business books I’d heard of but never bothered to read before, like “Who Moved My Cheese?”
Yeah, I guess the cheese book was cute, but it had nothing groundbreaking in it for me. That’s okay. Not every book will impact every person the same way. They meet us at different points in our lives after all. Even so, I did get one good thing from the cheese book: it gave me a taste for more. More books that is.
Around the same time, further boosting my growing addiction, I heard that CEOs read about a bazillion books a year which meant it probably wouldn’t hurt me to read a couple more either. So I kept going.
That’s when I came to the book that effortlessly crystallized a part of my essence that I’d taken for granted and only ever accepted reluctantly. My ability to grow.
The all-powerful book that unlocked my long-dormant superpower was none other than American psychologist Carol Dweck’s “Mindset.”
I burned through her book feverishly as she discussed all of her research into the two different types of mindsets people have. If you aren’t familiar, those are the “fixed” and “growth” mindsets.
To put it simply, a fixed mindset is believing the hand you’re dealt is as good as it gets — in which case you compensate by constantly trying to prove yourself.
A growth mindset is believing the hand you’re dealt is just a starting point and your true potential is unknowable — so you develop a passion for learning and improving your abilities.
It turns out I had been suffering from a fixed mindset that completely ignored the years of growth I’d already been through. By the time I reached the end of the book, I was a true believer in the growth mindset.
This is where the art comes in.
I grew up drawing all the time but I never believed I was good enough to pursue a creative career. Heck, I didn’t even know what a career in art would look like at the time and nobody could tell me.
So around the year 2000, after graduating from high school, I quit drawing. For reference, that was right before the internet truly blossomed and made pretty much anything possible.
Well, 15 years later, I read Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” book, and a few things finally clicked together for me.
- There are tons of successful artists on the internet
- It’s easier than ever to learn anything you want
- The growth mindset says I can get better with practice
I came to realize that if other people are doing something, then I can learn how they’re doing it, and, over time with enough effort, I should be able to do it too. So I picked up a pencil and started drawing again.
As an artist, people will tell you you’re talented, sometimes adding that they could never be as good as you. They don’t see the years of practice you put in, they only see the end result.
Their magical way of thinking is an example of a fixed mindset. If they believe it’s not possible then it frees them from even trying.
On the other hand, if you believe it’s possible to be a better artist, then you can improve your skills. Your current level and the amount of talent you think you have is not the end of your story. You are capable of so much more than you know!
To go further, it turns out that all of the “magical talents” of every type of artist can be broken down into repeatable processes. Processes that anyone can learn and get better at.
The growth mindset led me to discover these truths and made me a better artist, willing to put in the effort required to improve my skills.
I never expected to find a library in my workplace and I never expected a book to alter the course of my life, but here I am coming to terms with a life chock full of surprises.
How funny is it that I owe such a large part of where I am today as an artist to one idea in a book I found in a library at my day job?
In fact, the growth mindset has changed my thinking in such an immensely positive way that I now believe it’s the first thing you should learn if you want to be an artist. It will open your mind to a world of possibilities.
Because you can be an artist. And soon you will be a better artist.
P.S. Yes, I did keep the book.
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