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Don't tell me I'm talented...

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

About a year and a half ago I read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. The premise of the book describes the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset follows the principle that we all have a finite amount of intelligence and talent in any given situation or "a fixed ability that needs to be proven." A growth mindset allows individuals to believe that they can increase their intelligence through hard work and dedication or a "changeable ability that can be developed through learning."

Looking back, I had a fixed mindset for a very long time. My whole life I was told that I had such “talent.” I heard things like, she's so musical, she’s so talented just like her parents, and you can’t teach that, what a gift. Having musicians as parents comes with a lot of musical experiences (whether I wanted them or not). As a (painfully) shy kid who only got noticed for my musical abilities, music became my identity. Rather I should say, being good at music became my identity. One thing I wasn't good at was reading.

One day in fourth grade a bunch of different kids got letters to take home to their parents. Some of the kids got them and some didn’t. I got a letter and felt special. However, my letter didn’t look like the other kid’s letters. Other kids were in the “gifted” program called the LEAP program. My letter said that I had fallen behind in reading and needed to be in the “slower” reading class. So, for the next two years I was pulled out of class and sent to a smaller special room with a couple of other kids who also had trouble reading. This was embarrassing to me, and looking back on it now I realize that they handed us our identities in these letters. The school labeled us gifted or slow. This kept me from enjoying reading for the next fifteen years or so, I just assumed I wasn’t good at it.

These aspects of my life (music and academics) became even more polarized as I went into high school. Band was more competitive and I was rewarded for my abilities. While, school was hard and I had really smart friends who seemingly didn’t ever need to study. I remember getting back a test I thought I'd prepared enough for and getting a 59%. That night I felt so stupid. I literally thought, “I hate that I’m just smart enough to know I’m stupid. I wish I wasn’t even smart enough to have this realization.” This led to me to think it wasn't worth it to study for my SAT/ACTs and getting an embarrassingly low score. I thought this test measured your intelligence and what you got just reflected that. I know this seems crazy, but I didn’t realize you could study and get better at it.

In college not much changed. I majored in music and decided to focus solely on flute, blowing off classes a lot of the time to go practice the thing I was good at. I thought it was easier to get B’s and not try than to put myself out there and try to get A’s when I knew I probably wasn’t smart enough to anyway (or so I thought).

Fast forward to my Master’s degree. I am not sure what switched. Maybe it was having the responsibility of being a studio graduate assistant, or just being sick of thinking I wasn’t smart enough. But, I decided to apply myself fully to my school work. I ended up getting a 4.0 in my master’s program. Though it doesn’t count for much in the grand scheme of things (graduate grades are seldom looked at in the music world), I proved to myself that I wasn’t the kid in the slow reading class anymore. I had developed a growth mindset. I learned how to study and learn material in an effective way, something I’d been sorely lacking previously.

Now, when people say that I am talented it doesn’t faze me. Anyone far into the music field realizes how little talent really plays a role, the majority of what are careers and our playing abilities are built on is hard work and practice.

A growth mindset opens the door to any possibility through hard work and dedication. A fixed mindset allows for excuses.

Things I used to say with a fixed mindset:

“I’m just bad at sight reading.”

"I’m just not as smart as my friends, that’s why they got good SAT scores and I didn’t.”

“I just don’t learn music as quickly as other people.”

— Okay so this all sounds crazy right? Like, I could have practiced all of these things *insert facepalm emoji* —

You can literally practice and get better at anything. WHY DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE…. Hindsight is 2020, I’m just glad something shifted when it did. I’m currently in my 10th year of college (woof) and finishing my DMA. The fact that I was in a slow reading class is almost laughable now, but I still have to remind myself and build a case (to myself) that I am capable and “smart enough” to get through this degree successfully. It doesn’t totally go away, the feeling of being “slow” or “stupid,” but I did have to realize that it was all just in my head. It was the story that I was telling myself that became a habit.

If you haven’t read Carol S. Dweck’s book Mindset, I highly recommend it. It is empowering to think in a growth mindset, and it will allow you to accomplish more than you ever thought you could.

You can get Carol S. Dweck's book Mindset here.


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