Throughout my education, I measured my success by how easily things came to me. I was one of those students who paid attention in class and pulled all-nighters before an exam. I was usually able to get by with excellent grades. I came to believe that it was easy for someone like me to put in minimal effort and get the desired outcome — an A! Unfortunately, as I progressed in my education (enter law school, stage left), this was not always the case. I found myself on several occasions bombing major tests and thinking that something was broken in me because I didn’t pick it up quickly the first time and retain it.
I’m rereading the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck — well, listening to it in my car while commuting to work, so it still counts. Dweck compares a person with a growth mindset versus one with a fixed mindset. A person with a growth mindset believes that success comes with time and effort. They embrace that things don’t necessarily come to them quickly, so they are willing to put in some energy and work hard to improve their skill set. They believe in growth.
Conversely, people with a fixed mindset see their talents and skills as fixed traits that cannot change. What they already possess is enough, so they don’t have to put in the effort to improve. In a fixed mindset, you naturally have a certain amount of intelligence and skill, which is unchanging.
(I admit that I had a fixed mindset for most of my life. Any time things didn’t come easily to me, instead of examining why, I would quit and make excuses.)
In running a law firm, situations will test your mindset. At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us were forced to turn our practices virtual for court hearings, meeting with clients, and managing teams remotely. A person with a growth mindset would look at the situation and realize solutions to improve the work situation must exist, including:
- improving staff access to remote technology
- informing clients of the upcoming changes
- ensuring clients know how to sign on for a virtual court hearing
- exercising patience with the judge who is not technologically savvy
A person with a fixed mindset would align with the inconvenience and disruption of the norm. They may focus on the following things:
- the expense of new equipment for staff
- the hassle of changing client-intake processes
- the annoyance of clients who needed coaching to get to a Zoom hearing
- the morning being wasted due to a judge who isn’t a tech native
The good news is that we are not stuck with one way of thinking. Mindset is not a binary. We all have fixed and growth mindsets depending on the issue. A growth mindset isn’t some manifestation technique where you get to do everything you want and become the next Esperanza Spalding or Frida Kahlo due to positive thinking and effort. It’s not a delusion. A growth mindset is about the ability to put things in perspective and know that not everything comes easily, and time, effort, and outlook may lead to improvement. We aren’t all born geniuses, but we can all develop and improve.
Which mindset do you align with — growth or fixed? How do you see mindset at work at your law firm? And what are some ways that you can combat a fixed mindset when dealing with adversity in your practice? Please feel free to share your insights with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iffy Ibekwe is an estate planning attorney and evangelist for intergenerational wealth transfer with effective wills and trusts. Iffy is a prolific speaker and she is writing her first book on culturally competent estate planning, available in 2024 (prayers up!). She graduated from The University of Texas School of Law and has practiced law for over 16 years. Iffy can be reached by email at email@example.com, on her website, and on Instagram at @iffyibekweesq.