I remember the liberating feeling when I realised, I could learn nearly anything, if I tried.
When I was in grade 3 or 4, my brother was teaching me multiplication tables, and I was struggling to grasp the concept. Every day, after school, he would sit with me in the afternoon, and try help me with my arithmetic. And the more he tried to get me to see the obvious pattern to multiplication tables, the more I felt there must be something wrong with me, for not being able to see it.
My brother sat with me for weeks after school, trying everything to get me, ‘to get it.’ At school, in class, my teacher and class mates, all tried to help me. And the more they tried, the more frustrated they got with me. And the more stupid I felt. Then, it started affecting all my subjects.
I was losing confidence in my abilities. I started to believe that everything worth learning, must be hard. I lost faith in my ability to learn anything with ease. Before, I loved to read, now I was struggling to read. My mom became concerned about my plummeting grades, and so were my teachers. The school suggested my mom take me to a child therapist. In the early 70s, seeing a therapist, especially one for children, was not an ordinary thing.
I hated going.
It was scary for a 10-year old. But my parents were paying a lot of money for this expert advice, so I persevered. I wanted it to work, for me to be normal again. For a full year she tried. There was little progress.
The next few years at school, I continued to struggle in most of my subjects. When I went from primary school to high school, I took on a new persona. I became the class clown. It was a safe place to hide from doing any work. My reputation as a clown became known, and every day, I would carry out the façade.
At the end of grade 10, I scraped through the year, my marks were shocking. That was when my parents moved to a new suburb, and I changed schools. I had no friends or anyone that knew me at the new school, so I could drop the class clown act.
On my very first day at the new school, I sat right at the back of the maths class, against the wall. As the teacher welcomed everyone back for the new year, he spotted me sitting in the back. He saw my unfamiliar face, and asked my name. Then he asked me what school I had come from. On informing him, he told me to come sit right in the front of the class, under his nose, ‘Where he can watch me.’
Once everyone was settled, he asked the class, ‘Who can remember Pythagoras’ theorem, from where we left off last year?’ Everyone else in the class had their hand up, except me. I didn’t have a clue. The teacher saw that I didn’t know the answer, and pointed it out to the class. They all laughed.
I hated the feeling.
A few weeks later, we had started doing algebra for the first time. The teacher asked the class to answer a problem on the board. No-one knew the answer. I slowly raised my hand, almost in disbelief myself. I gave the right answer.
I felt great.
Around the same time, we had just started learning the periodic table of elements in science class. The teacher asked a question on some chemical properties, and again I could answer. The workings of the table made perfect sense to me.
It felt great.
Sitting in front of class, not messing around, and paying attention to what the teacher was saying, started to pay off.
I went home and pulled out my previous three years science, maths and English books. My brother, who was now studying at university, stepped in and assisted me again. I went back and started learning the basics and principles of all three subjects. For the next two years of my high school career, I spent trying to catch up to everyone else in my grade.
We have one of two mindsets, according to Carol Dweck, an expert on human motivation. We either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe your intelligence and abilities are a deep-seated trait that cannot be changed. A growth mindset is one in which you believe your qualities can be developed and cultivated with effort.
Our mindset is not cast in stone. It is not part of our DNA. We have a choice. Choosing a growth mindset opens us to possibilities. A growth mindset understands that failure is part of the deal, and is never fatal.
I have tried ever since those high school days to keep a growth mindset.
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