Tackling Your Mindset for Career Success (Part 1)

Mental Conditioning in Coaching

In preparing for the exercise of finding your career path, a common theme in coaching is that you have to do the mental conditioning before you actually tackle the specific career search. Note that I am using the term "career search" instead of job search here. Why? Because finding a job can be a much more mechanical task (networking, updating your resume, applying) and, though these are all important components of actually getting a job, it's the career search that requires the hard mental work to make sure you are pursuing the right jobs for you, at the right time, for the right reasons.

Strong coaching programs don't ignore the mental part of the work you have to do to find work. For example, in the classic career search book The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore (Rockport Institute), the entire first section (up to page 150) is about "living a life you love " and "how to get from here" [your current situation] "to there" [your ideal career]. The chapters are all about committing to the journey, what to do when you get stuck, how to ask helpful questions of yourself and others- in short, all of the mental work necessary before you get to the specific exercises geared toward finding a good career match.

Similarly,  Classy Career Girl (@classycareer) dedicates the beginning stages of her courses to topics like adopting a success mindset, dealing with fear and worry, and gaining personal mastery over your time in order to maximize productivity and decrease stress.

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Mindset in Psychology

Speaking of mindset, there is a well-established body of research in education about this topic, spurred by the work of Stanford University's Carol Dweck. In her classic book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck details her research on "fixed" versus "growth" mindset. In essence, a fixed mindset is when we tell ourselves that we are (naturally) good/a success at X and bad/a failure at Y, and we see challenges as a referendum on who were are or our innate ability to learn or accomplish a skill. A growth mindset focuses on the power of seeing challenges as an obstacle to be conquered and an opportunity to grow our knowledge base. Brain Pickings summarizes the advantages of a growth mindset nicely:

At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning. 

While these mindsets develop from an early age, the good news is that we can work on changing our patterns toward a more growth-oriented mindset, even as adults. Dweck cautions that cultivating a growth mindset isn't just about praising effort (in ourselves or others); we need to make connections between the strategies we use and the outcomes we obtain. Pure effort, if not channeled toward the right direction or supported appropriately, may not help you accomplish your goals. If instead you appreciate and learn from your mistakes, they become a powerful tool to guide your search for a fulfilling career and life.

A close cousin to growth mindset is resilience, which occurs when people "surmount" rather than "succumb" to the stressors they encounter. Protective factors, like having an internal locus of control (i.e., you control your fate) can enhance our ability to face challenges and, like mindset, research indicates that you can learn to be resilient.

A key takeaway from this work is that challenges and life events do not exist as objective realities but, rather, take form based on our own perceptions and the meaning we give to them. The more you can reframe challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, the more likely you are to live a happy and successful life.

But how do we teach our brain to move toward a growth-oriented, resilient perspective? It's hard to change our thinking patterns and, just like a child (or some adults, cough, cough), the brain can be stubborn and restless. An educator needs strategies to work with children, and we need strategies to work with our brains. 

In my next post I'll discuss some of these strategies and tools, ranging from centuries-old to more recent, that can help you tackle your mindset. Stay tuned! 


Looking for support to tackle your mindset and move from feeling like an outsider to knowing you're an asset in your career? Check out the Inclusive Career Strategy and schedule a consultation call today.