George Danzig was a graduate student in math at Berkeley. One day, as usual, he rushed in late to his math class and quickly copied the two homework problems from the blackboard. When he later went to do them, he found them very difficult and it took him several days of hard work to crack them open and solve them. They turned out not to be homework problems at all. They were two famous math problems that had never been solved.
[from "Mindset" by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D]
Isn’t this little fragment of discovery inspiring?
I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of success lately. I finished a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success over a week ago and it really opened up my eyes to something I hadn’t thought about. The author separates ones with the Fixed mindset from the Growth; the former with examples stemming from childhoods with parents/teachers around that child astounded with their talent and praised over and over. The child is then consumed with the notion that they are born special and when they cannot reach this ill-fated trap of achievement again, he brushes it aside (“That’s not for me anyways.” “I don’t want to do it because it’s stupid.” or worse: “I’m not good enough.”)
Fixed mindsets are those seeking validation for their work; praise that they are indeed different, better, than everybody else. Success means something unique for each person but more often than not, the word evokes images of esteem, one-upping and pedestals.
And even as I write my novel, there are times where I crush myself; comparing myself to other great authors, embarrassed that I even think my writing may be considered readable, hoping my work will be acclaimed and adored — and that is the part of me I realize as my empty ego creeping in, having to prove itself over and over, anxious for the deadline.
The latter of the mindsets, Growth, considers another side: the side that says talent is not born but is built, nurtured and questioned. My own interpretation being that there is no prize, as the gift comes from the love of doing. There is no praise to be sought because it realizes that praise means something concrete, told, done, finished; something that, while nice, is already past. Growth continues, forward and onward.
What does success mean to you? Sometimes, if questioned and aggravated, one can find so many deeper reasons of how this answer came about and where the roots began; Validation? Competition? Measuring?
Some final words about doing work you love, fame and success from Paul Graham:
“What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgment you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? …This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow, especially when you’re young. Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like… If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself…Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige…”
“It’s hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don’t underestimate this task. And don’t feel bad if you haven’t succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you’re discontented, you’re a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. If you’re surrounded by colleagues who claim to enjoy work that you find contemptible, odds are they’re lying to themselves. Not necessarily, but probably.”