We all face challenges and changes—and we have had plenty of both lately—but it is how we cope and respond that helps frame our next steps. One approach worth exploring is having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology, defines a growth mindset this way: "In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."
For those in the legal industry, a growth mindset can help us meet our challenges, recover from setbacks, and embrace change. To help us understand how we can move forward with a growth mindset, we asked O'Melveny lawyers and legal professionals to reflect on some of Dr. Dweck's advice:
"We need to abandon the idea that our talent and traits are fixed assets. We can all change and grow. The key with growth mindset is to focus on the process, not the outcome."
Lauren Stamey, Corporate Associate (SF): As we enter a new year and reflect on 2021 and its countless challenges, we are reminded again that the only constant in life is change. However, change can often beget freedom—in where and how we work, who we identify as our community, and what interests or passions we pursue. These freedoms have caused a collective reconciliation and look inwards, from both a business and personal perspective. It is encouraging to see the imagination and flexibility of firm leadership in their navigation of an ever-evolving return-to-office landscape. Today, inter-office collaborations are commonplace and increasingly personal—each time a family member (or pet) makes an appearance on Zoom, one is immediately reminded of the humanity behind the screen. These small moments enrich relationships, and in this way the journey can often be as rewarding as the destination. Strong relationships make up strong communities—the best buoys in choppy waters!
"A growth mindset is deliberate, collaborative and freeing."
Ramon Ramirez, Labor & Employment Counsel (SV): Practicing law and achieving well-being are not mutually exclusive. Openness around attorney well-being has come a long way, and it is very encouraging to see those walls—and the associated stigma around this topic—starting to come down. While more open discussions about well-being started pre-pandemic, the combination of support from leadership and engagement by all has created an environment that encourages candid conversations and provides essential tools to navigate personal and professional challenges. But even with the right environment, individually and collectively, we need to be intentional (or deliberate) about having an open mind, stepping outside our comfort zone, and welcoming new ways of doing things. Being part of a movement to support each other—to think differently about our profession, to show vulnerability, to empathize with others, and to grow emotionally and mentally—is powerful (and freeing). Don't shy from "real" conversations when they cannot be had in person. Take advantage of Zoom or other video options. Look for ways to collectively make a difference. Feel empowered to explore your own well-being while paying attention to the well-being of others.
"People with a growth mindset feel their skills and intelligence can be improved with effort and persistence. They persist through obstacles, learn from criticism and seek out inspiration in others' success."
Allison Friend, Managing Director for Talent Development (DC): People often get frustrated if an idea they develop and believe in is not immediately accepted, incorporated, or implemented. They view feedback as criticism and "no" as heartbreaking. But if, instead, you truly seek out input, ask others to pick apart your ideas, appreciate and view other perspectives as interesting and helpful even when you aren't sure about them, ideas will be stronger and you may see something differently or something new. In the legal field, lawyers are often reluctant to ask for just the thing that they need to thrive: feedback. Instead, they wait and view "no news as good news." Be curious about other viewpoints and actively seek out input both critical and affirming; these are fast tracks to expanding your knowledge, developing your thinking, and getting even more information to flow your way.
"It is important to acknowledge that sometimes the cards we are dealt are stacked against us. A true understanding of growth mindset would be incomplete without acknowledging the impact of historical, systemic, and contextual factors and how these factors influence mindset. Within organizations, the topic of growth mindset presents an opportunity for leadership to reflect on how they proactively create environments that invest in their employees and allow them to flourish, while reducing barriers to growth."
Mary Ellen Connerty, Director of Diversity & Engagement (NY): We often talk about leveling the playing field—acknowledging that we don't all start off with the same supports and privileges. More than acknowledge, leaders can seek to understand how personal and social histories impact how colleagues operate within and experience their firms. Without this information, unique challenges and obstacles can be overlooked, and people will mistake the norm for the neutral. While we often think of growth mindset as something personal, leaders can instill growth mindset in the culture of their firms. These will be places where strengths are relative, not absolute; where change and disruption is possible and even welcomed.
In closing, we leave you with one more piece of advice from Dr. Dweck that really hits home:
"We can be curious and put effort into learning, to trying, even if it means we might fail. We can learn from those failures and take the feedback we get about them as a roadmap to doing better, to being better. That will mean taking more risks. We will need to be open to learning from others' successes rather than being so focused on our own."
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