For good portion of my life, up until my late 20s, I was a (closeted) fearful person, hiding in the persona of a “cool girl”.
I didn’t feel like I was a fearful person. I knew I had anxiety in certain situations, but nothing that was crippling. I had friends, I was social, and I even accomplished quite a bit I was proud of, like getting through grad school.
But secretly I had deep regrets; a lot of stinkin’ regrets – about all the things I was too scared to try and fail at.
So now I’m here like the Ghost of Futures Past (yes, like the creepy faceless figure in “A Muppet Christmas Carol”) to urge you to reflect on your vision for your life and find the courage to say YES a little more.
The “Cool and Aloof” Myth
One rite of passage growing up in Los Angeles is the magic of the Venice Beach Drum Circle on Sunday evenings (Note: if you’re in LA, I can’t vouch for its hipness nowadays).
Back in ’03, my senior year of high school, I had befriended a particularly cool crowd of musicians. I was in awe of their talent, carefree spirits, their whimsy, and seeming endless confidence.
We were Drum Circle regulars and I absolutely loved it – from the comfort of my little space on the sand. No, there was no drumming or dancing like a wild loon with all my friends for this gal. Instead, I’d sit back and observe, from a nice little space called my “Risk-Free, No-Fear-of-Failing, Comfort Zone”, where there is no chance of being “bad” at drumming, or dancing, or looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. I just defaulted to “cool and aloof” girl.
That habit, of avoiding activities that might showcase my vulnerability in not knowing what to do, how to do, or how to be, was a crutch I wasn’t even consciously aware I had. And yet, it carried through in college – never once joining in on staples like pong, pool, Ultimate Frisbee, and countless other shenanigans. They seemed like small, silly things at the time, but they all somehow add up to something big.
The World-Shaking Discovery
Fast forward to my mid-twenties and I was in grad school, working at a summer camp on the side (as you do). It was during the planning of my camp staff training that I happened upon a little theory that would change everything for me. This world-shaking discovery was something called Growth Mindset (the work of Stanford psychologist and all-around Queen, Carol Dweck) and it held the deepest truth that I didn’t know I needed.
The long and short of Growth Mindset is this:
– Intelligence and talent are inherent
– Avoid what you don’t take to easily
– Only take on easy, attainable goals that prove their smarts or talents
– Understand effort is key, not natural ability
– Believe anyone can improve with hard work and consistent effort
– Understand failure is a part of the growing process
– Everything is an opportunity to learn and grow, so they don’t mind trying new things and sitting in the discomfort of not being great at something yet
Your mindset is how you show up in the world- how you approach everything you do.
It was during the discovery of this that I had an epiphany: I believed wholeheartedly that it’s imperative for the children I worked with to understand that they could do anything with hard work, and yet my mentality for myself was deeply rooted in Fixed Mindset delusions.
This realization did not sit well with me. So I started reflecting on all the things I’d missed out on because I was too afraid of the outcome, instead of the fun I might have in the process, or how far I might eventually get if I worked through the “not being good” in the momentary state.
Vulnerability – YAY!
I started to take on small challenges for myself, to push my vulnerabilities. I shared my new mindset knowledge and goals with friends and co-workers, in hopes of having accountability, support, and encouragement along the way.
Even just the act of being vulnerable enough to share with people when I’m trying something new or something I might not be good at, took away the fear and pressure I was putting on myself to have it right from the get-go.
I started to get excited about taking risks and trying new things. I found I was connecting more with people with similar passions and values – true friends, because the vulnerability created intimacy and a sharing of ourselves on a true, authentic level.
The Juicy Good Stuff
After a few years of intentional growth mindset work, I even felt bold enough to start my own business- a kid’s day camp with the mission of helping children develop a growth mindset with a super fun, child-centered approach.
So, I’m getting the hang of this growth mindset stuff! I don’t worry about being good enough anymore because we’re all works in progress.
We are all enough, right now, as is.
This isn’t to say I’ve mastered it, but it becomes more natural to you the more effort you put into practicing it. And when I catch myself wanting to sit things out, or ease into the observer role, I just remember that the journey is the juicy part.
Where the Good Stuff Lives
We must dare to be vulnerable – it’s where all the good stuff lives.
You will want to look back at your youth and remember falling on your face in Frisbee and your friends helping you up; sucking so bad at pool the first few times and then finally getting the hang of it; Or painting because it’s just so fun, even if all your pieces look toddler-created.
The truly memorable experiences in life exist in that space where we risk showing our authentic selves, being seen and heard.
Say “Yessss, Please!” to opportunities for growth, connection, and shining like the radically awesome gal you are!
Cassie Young is the Owner & Director of LA’s “Coolest Camp for Kids” – Camp Wildfolk. She is an MSW, specializing in Children & Families, and has been working with/learning from children and youth for over 15 years. She loves picnics, boogie sessions, live music that shakes your soul, game nights, craftin’ up a storm, Iced Chais with Almond Milk, all the good TV, and laughing ‘til you pee yourself a little.
Follow Cassie’s Adventures at the Wildfolk Blog & IG @campwildfolk
For Carol Dweck’s original work, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success