Growth mindset is unhealthy

Sometimes you cannot fake it ’til you make it

You can be anything you want to be. Good vibes only. Think lovely thoughts. Fake it ‘til you make it. Radiate positivity. You can always do better.
Online platforms abound with catchy mantras designed to motivate and inspire. They’re tinged with a fiercely positive, borderline manic attitude of capital-S “Success” above all else and the unlimited power of growth mindset as a lifestyle. All of it holds up to a certain degree, but there’s a limit to everything, positivity included. So, what happens when you meet that ceiling?
I spent the summer trying to bring myself back from the brink after a very difficult six months. In between all of my attempts to get better – therapy, meditating, medication, working and resting – I was trying to glean any comfort I could from the world’s favorite toxic trash heap: the internet, which advised me that I simply had the wrong mindset. Silly me, if only I had known it was that simple! Pinterest reminded me to be positive and always grow, grow, grow. It told me that I can change anything about myself if I put my mind to it. For some people, I’m sure this statement is the ultimate comfort. I, however, found it incredibly disheartening.
Psychologist Carol Dweck proposed the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” and popularized them in her 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Essentially, a fixed mindset is an attitude in which a person believes that they are unchangeable. A failure is a failure and frustration is a sign to give up. Meanwhile, a growth mindset is the opposite — an attitude that promotes learning from failure, tackling challenges with vigor and fearlessly trying new things.
The fact of the matter is that growth and fixed mindset are not as mutually exclusive as we would like to believe. Rather than two sides of a coin, they are two ends of a spectrum. A healthy approach to life exists somewhere in the middle. We hear so much about how terrible a fixed mindset is — how it creates stagnant, stubborn people — but there is something wonderful to be said about accepting yourself for who you are, especially after years of trying to change yourself in the name of growth. It takes a lot of courage — and, arguably, growth — to admit that there are some things you cannot change through sheer force of willpower, that the fixed parts of life aren’t so terrible after all.
Here is a more extreme example from my life: depression. This is a chronic condition. Even with therapy, medication, and the power of positive thinking, there will still be days when I struggle terribly. Does this mean that I have not attempted to grow? That I have not tried my hardest to have a good life despite my illness? Surely not. There is no use, in this case, feeling guilty or frustrated that I cannot change. For years, though, I did. I wondered why I couldn’t muscle through my low moods, why I fell victim to my nature time and time again. I felt like a bad person for being unable to grow. I wanted myself to change so badly, and when I couldn’t, I hated myself all the more for it. The most empowering choice for me was not to grow, but rather to adopt a fixed mindset — to accept the parts of me that cannot change and work with them as begrudging partners.
The dogged insistence on growth that I found plastered across the internet is dangerous. It feeds directly into a culture of ceaseless climbing, the endless pursuit of betterment. See, you can be anybody you want if you’re willing to sacrifice enough of yourself. For a long time, I thought that was the way that everybody lived — with enough willpower to ignore their true disposition, their true instincts, and instead become infallible. I thought that life was a ladder to climb and that the prize at the end was perfection. But, at the end of the day, faking it ‘til you make it just leaves you hollow. The person who has succeeded, who has attained perfection or status, is not you. It is somebody else. There is no glory in that.
A fixed mindset — not a stubborn surrender, but instead a cathartic acceptance — is sometimes the only path forward. It is not a fool’s approach to life, nor is it an outdated school of thought. It is an empowering thought to accept the parts of you that, try as you might, you can never change. When you start celebrating that which you used to despise, you will be surprised how good it feels. I am what I am; I can pretend otherwise, I can try to contort myself into new shapes, but I will always spring back, fixed into myself. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.