The relentless pursuit of better

What do you want do better than anyone?

Recently, I read an article where the author suggested that the answer to that question is the key to finding your purpose. His idea is that the thing you want to be the best in the world at, is the thing you should devote your life to. It’s a variant of the popular notion that if you’re not the best, you’re invisible.

The relentless pursuit of better

I think it’s bad advice. And here’s why.

Researchers have shown that those who measure their progress against others—those who have performance goals—may do well in the short term, but are more likely to lose motivation when failure hits than those who measure their progress against themselves—those who have mastery, or self-improvement, goals. Competing against another puts you in the position of being your own worst critic. Any effort that falls short of another’s, regardless of how much improvement you may have shown, is failure. Eventually, you’ll quit in exasperation and begin looking for something else to be best in. That cycle will repeat itself until you conclude that you’re no good at anything. Perhaps that’s why the Bible says that those who measure themselves by comparing themselves to others are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12).

It’s a subtle but powerful set of assumptions, one that Stanford researcher Dr. Carol Dweck calls the fixed mindset. I lived with it for years and still catch myself in it at times. I know I’ve succumbed to a fixed mindset when I:

  • Feel good about my accomplishments only when they exceed others’.
  • Worry about how I’m perceived by others and alter my behavior accordingly.
  • Want others to think I’m really smart or capable.
  • Believe that my intelligence, personality, character traits are what I’m stuck with.

The alternative, the growth mindset, instead gains satisfaction from personal progress rather than obtaining a specific outcome or external measure of success (such as beating a competitor, getting a 4.0, or achieving a sales award). Those with a growth mindset are more likely to perform well under pressure and remain motivated over longer periods of time. They are relentless learners.

When I’m thinking from a growth mindset I’m more apt to:

  • Believe my contribution is important even if it’s not the best.
  • Be willing to experiment with activities I have no competency in.
  • Know that even my most stubborn traits can be improved.
  • Focus on beating myself rather than beating myself up.
  • See failure as a way to get better rather than as an indictment of my worth.

The key to finding our purpose lies not in fixing a target to compete with in order to be the best, but rather by trying a variety of things that challenge us to grow. And we’re more likely to do that when we believe that the relentless pursuit of better is best.

What are some of the fixed mindset thoughts you may have had?

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