Growth and Skills: Hank Green’s “How to Get Good at Everything” and the Struggle to Realize Potential

I’m a big fan of John and Hank Green, who co-run the YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.  They have earned a great amount of skill in writing and music, respectively, and they’ve created a YouTube culture of Nerdfighters based on charity, learning, and being nerdy and proud.

In Hank’s most recent video, “How to Get Good at Everything,” he shares that he is writing his first novel.  This comes with many challenges: the fear that comes with working toward a major goal for the first time, the seemingly endless time it will take to complete it, and the fact that his brother happens to be the award-winning author of some of YA’s most prominent current novels (i.e. The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska).

Hank expresses these fears and concerns but uses them as a springboard to discuss something that we all think about on a regular basis but rarely talk about straightforwardly: how to get good at things.

In the video, he explains what he learned from a TED Talk by Carol Dweck called “The power of believing that you can improve.”  In her talk, Dweck describes the difference between the “Fixed Mindset” and the “Growth Mindset.”  People who have a fixed mindset believe that skills are innate, that if you’re bad at something you’re destined to be so.  On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that skills are learned and that with hard work and dedication, any skill can be acquired.

For a lot of people, including me, it’s easy to slip into the fixed mindset.  It’s easy to look at a successful person– a musician, an artist, a businessperson, a mathematician, an inventor– and think, “They’re just good at what they do.  They’ve always been that way and they always will be.”  But in reality, no one is good at anything from the get-go.  As Hank said, we aren’t even born able to communicate verbally– our most basic skill.  Some people might be genetically predisposed to learning a certain skill quickly, but everybody has to start at the beginning.

The real trouble with the fixed mindset is that you never get good at anything because you’re afraid to try.  I think that everybody’s been there; I, for one, get easily caught up in the “I am bad at this therefore I will always be bad at this” mentality.  Sometimes I think that I’ll never be good at guitar when I pick it up again, that I’ll never be able to understand chemistry or physics, that I’ll never be able to run a marathon.

But then I have to remind myself of all of the skills that I’ve learned through practice.  What I thought of immediately while watching this video was the skills I’m learning at my new job.  I’ve never had a job before, and I’ve been thrown into a retail store environment, which is a completely different position than I’ve ever occupied before.  And at first I was completely overwhelmed (and sometimes still am).  But I was surprised at how quickly I picked up the skills of a cashier: talking and bagging at the same time, pressing a million buttons on the screen, smiling and saying “How are you today?” to a complete stranger.  All it took was hard work and repetition.

College has helped me get better at talking to new people, a skill I lacked almost completely just a few years ago.  I first picked up a ukulele a year and half ago, and after countless times of having raw fingers and hand cramps, I finally feel that I’m competent at it–and still working to get better!  For a long time, my writing stayed the same, but in my college classes I could really feel myself getting a hold on the craft and learning how to write.

And maybe I’ll never be good at some things just because they don’t interest me.  I’ve never played on a sports team in my life and always felt an aversion to them.  (I still do.)  For all of grade school, I was the kid hanging around in the outfield or running away from the soccer ball in gym class.  But by eighth grade, I finally started trying a little.  And I found out that I wasn’t as terrible as I thought I was.  I just had to give it a shot.

So when I think about how little fiction writing I’ve done this summer (revision or otherwise), I feel like the end goal is never going to happen, like it’s not even on the horizon.  So I don’t try.  But I need to try.  Because like Hank said, it is massive, and it is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.  I have to “do the thing.”  Because it’ll get easier and be worth it in the end.

What do you think are the benefits of a growth mindset?  What skills have you acquired by having that mentality?  What skills have you stuck in a fixed mindset?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

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