Interesting thought of the week (from “The Art of Charm” podcast): never tell your kids they’re smart.
One of the speakers this week was psychologist Carol Dweck, on fixed vs growth mindsets (aka open mindedness vs closed-mindedness, or flexibility vs rigidity.) The part I found so fascinating, though, was when the two hosts took turns talking about their pasts, relative to this issue. One said he was always labeled the “smart one” growing up, which led him to this belief that things should come easily to him—and therefore he shunned the idea of having to work hard to overcome challenges.
The other host chimed in that he’d “barely gotten in” to law school, but because of that, he knew at the outset that he’d have to work his butt off to stay in. Comparatively, he was surrounded by a bunch of “smart people,” who had been at the top of their classes, and they had almost this snobbery about the fact that they didn’t have to study because “only lesser people have to study.” (I SO remember this from med school! Nobody wanted to admit to studying hard! It felt like everyone but me was out partying all the time.) The lawyer said he remembered when he looked around and started forming study groups, some snotty girl said, “Ugh! Are we seriously forming study groups like the first week of school?”
…But when those very people didn’t do well after the first round of testing, instead of buckling down and using their famed brains, they instead adopted a defensive mindset like, “Well, this is stupid anyway, I’m over this!” They couldn’t accept finding something that didn’t come naturally to them, because that would challenge their identity as “the smart one (who therefore doesn’t have to work hard).”
In my experience, some of these types of kids dropped out of med school in the first year. They played the “I’m too cool to study” card until they couldn’t fake it anymore. Others, I’m convinced, only pretended not to study because it enhanced their image… but when no one was looking, they probably crammed their butts off.
I was “the smart kid” too. I was “the smart kid” all the way until I graduated college with a degree in biochemistry and then worked as a barista at Starbucks, because I had no idea what do with it. Up until then, I’d really enjoyed impressing people with my difficult-sounding major. But when I suddenly found myself mopping floors and taking out the trash with my fancy degree… well, I got over myself. That’s probably why I didn’t mind openly working hard when I got to med school (or now).
So, note to self: never tell your kids they’re smart. Instead, praise them for working hard, for ingenuity, and that sort of thing… because in the real world those are the things that really matter.