#Mindset13 Ch. 2

Have you ever given something in which you did not possess a lot of natural talent your full effort? What were the results of your effort? Was it a success? Did you surprise yourself? Did you learn anything?


When I was a freshman in college, I had a two hour break every Tuesday and Thursday between my morning class and my afternoon class. It was a long, often cold walk back to my dorm, and once I made it all the way back to my cramped dorm room, I only had about half an hour before I had to walk back out into the cold to my afternoon class. Instead of the long walk, I decided to kill some time in the rec center, which happened to be very close to both of my classes.


On my first visit to the rec center I walked around, went upstairs, and followed the noise. There were two basketball courts upstairs, both with intense pick up games taking place. Crowds had formed around both courts as people cheered on the players, who all happened to be way more skilled, bigger, faster, and stronger than myself. I now had a challenge. My goal was to get good enough to play in one of these intense pick up games and hold my own. It wouldn’t be good enough for me to simply gather the courage to join a game and get destroyed. After all, I could have, and would have, gotten destroyed on the basketball court on that very first visit to the rec center.


Downstairs, on the quiet, less crowded basketball courts, is where I would be found every Tuesday and Thursday for the next three months. While the loud and frantic games took place on the courts upstairs, I found solace on the courts downstairs. I was all alone. Working on my jump shot and my ball handling. I sure did need some work. I hadn’t played any organized basketball since the 7th grade, and it showed.


I worked hard for the next few months. Chasing down the ball after all my misses was tiring. There was one day in particular that I worked myself really hard. After a ton of dribbling drills, and refusing to leave until I made 15 shots in a row (this took forever), I finally got my backpack and headed for class. It had just started to rain outside, but the good news was my class was only a five minute walk away. If I hurried, I wouldn’t get too wet.  I got about two minutes into my walk when both of my legs cramped up. The cramping was so bad I was forced to take a seat on the sidewalk because I couldn’t walk. I had to sit there, in the rain, which had begun to pour by now, for at least ten minutes. I remember laughing  and wincing at the same time, wishing I could have made it to class before the cramps set in.


At the end of the semester I felt I had improved enough to at least not embarrass myself in one of the pick-up games upstairs on the “big-boy” courts. No longer was I dribbling the ball off my feet. I could now make about 70 percent of my jump shots with no one guarding me. It was time to see if I could make these shots in a game, with those players who I first sized up as bigger, faster, and stronger than I.


I walked upstairs, and walked out onto one of the courts. They were in process of picking teams. There were about 30 players on the court. We all stood behind the three-point line with a ball. One at a time, we launched a three point shot. The first ten people to make it would be our players (five-on-five). I was nervous when it became my turn to shoot. I didn’t want to have to sit and watch the game if I missed the three-pointer. I drilled it. All net. But now I was more nervous than before. What if these people thought I could actually play? What if I was terrible?


To this day it’s so strange how vividly remember the fifteen minute game I played. Even though it was almost twenty years ago, I can still see, hear, and feel what much of the game was like. Perhaps it was because I put in so much effort, and trained so hard up to that point that the memories stuck with me.


I took the first shot of the game. We had possession of the ball first. Since I was the smallest on the court (5’10”) I played point guard. I dribbled the ball up, passed it into my teammate in the post. My teammate passed the ball back out to me. I was wide open. I took the shot and …. it came up short. Way short. An airball. Walking back on defense, I hung my head for a second. NEgative thoughts began to creep into my head. “What was I thinking? I knew these guys were better than me. Why did I think I could play with them? This is going to be embarrassing.”


Thinking back to my competitive tennis days, I pushed the negative thoughts away. I replaced them with positive thoughts. “I have put in all this work the past three months. I can make fiveteen shots in a row now. I am much better than I was before. I got this!”


On our next possession I passes the ball inside once again. My teammate was double teamed, so he kicked it back out to me. I knew I was going to shoot before the ball reached my hands. From behind the three-point line I rose and released the ball. Swish. “That’s more like it,” I thought.


In the small crowd watching the game, I noticed my roommate. He hadn’t been to the rec center when I was there all semester long, but he decided to show up randomly today. I did not tell him that I was going to attempt playing my first game against the ‘big-boys’.


I remember being able to keep the offensive player in front of me on defense. I even frustrated him with a couple of steals. On one of the steals, I grabbed the ball, looked up and saw that I had a three-on-two fast break. One of the defenders came at me fast reaching for the ball. Quickly, and without thinking about it, I dribbled the ball behind my back to avoid his reach, navigated past him, pulled up at the free throw line and swished another shot. I heard my roommate say, “Seriously?” and then say him flash a smile.


We lost the game by two points, but I did my best. I made a few more three pointers and racked up several assists. I fit in. Not only did I not embarrases myself, I was able to play at a higher level than I thought I was capable of. I played one more game after that. Then I was done. The desire wasn’t there anymore. I think I just had to test myself and see if I could reach my goal.


I didn’t have a ton of fun while practicing every Tuesday and Thursday for one whole semester. In fact, some days where flat out tough. I just stuck with it. Often times in life we talk about only doing things that we find fun. If it’s not a good time then stop doing it. It didn’t even feel that much fun during the two games I played. It was more intense than fun. At the end I felt satisfied. I felt proud. This is what I want my students to feel. It’s good to be frustrated along the learning process. Everything we do does not need to be fun. It’s about the effort, the grit, the hard work. It’s about being satisfied with yourself when it’s done.


Story by: @ryanhorne0076


*You can join our asynchronous Twitter chat on Carol Dweck’s book Mindset by following the hashtag #Mindset13. Please add your own comments below of a time that you felt smart or successful and how a growth mindset got you there.


15 Responses to #Mindset13 Ch. 2

  1. Take 2
    Thank you Ryan, this post leaves me with several thoughts that can be shared with learners of all ages and lifers like us. I particularly appreciate the transparency you allow to readers to see into your thoughts as you set about achieving a goal. Of particular interest is the connection to the reason(s) why we do anything at all when it is not in our immediate skill set to do so. What makes a kid learn coding or pick up a paint brush? What makes an athlete stay after practice to continue hitting free throws, running suicides or practising fundamentals?
    I really believe in sharing our lives with our learners. When we reveal our humanity to them, it forms a kinship that cannot be achieved in a transmissionist classroom. When students see us a struggling, battling,goal setting, improving and ultimately achieving, they can see the potential in a way that is achievable to them. Regardless of the end result, the lesson have been learnt from each decision to plan, proceed and prosper from the process. Keep the great posts coming!

    • Will, I am going to expand on your thoughts because they need to be repeated! … Our current ‘self-esteem’ culture has been telling our youth over and over how important it is to have fun. Have fun.Enjoy yourself. The most important thing is if you had fun. Don’t chose a career unless it’s something you enjoy and are good at …. Blah, blah, blah. This is sending the completely wrong message to our students.

      In your comment you asked, “… why should we do anything at all when it is not in our immediate skill set to do so?” Our culture has been teaching our students to only go after the things that come easy to them. Follow the fun. Follow what makes you happy. Well, grit isn’t about being happy. Perseverance is not about joy. Shooting 100 free throws after practice is not fun. Running 10 sprints after your 13 mile jog isn’t rainbows and butterflies. Plugging away at that HTML code until you get it right doesn’t induce joy. All of these situations cause frustration. Frustration is good. Frustration means we are learning something new. Something that didn’t come easy for us. We are stretching ourselves.

      I didn’t really have “fun” when I was dribbling, shooting, and running during that semester at college. It felt like a chore most of the time. I didn’t receive a trophy when I finally played in a pick-up game. I was far from the best player on the court. The one thing I did have was satisfaction. I earned satisfaction and pride. I’ll take that over fun and a participation trophy any day!

  2. wmartin4 says:

    Ryan, I’m ready to challenge you to a one-on-one. Or maybe we could challenge another edchat to a pickup game, like #LIVedChat vs. #edchat. I’ll cover Tom Whitby!

    But in all seriousness, your post reminds me of my younger ball playing days, I was fast, and my elbows were my secret weapon. I love your growth mindset and focus on a goal, to play respectably with more advanced players. Right now, I’m doing just the same thing with music, for so many years I watched other players while sitting and wishing I had the guts, or the skills, to participate. Now I will join just about any jam session, and sometimes call the songs. Not trying to brag, but I can hold my own and relate to other musicians. That is a great feeling, and it doesn’t come without work. So I really connect to that, any skill or hobby has parallels there I believe.

    Will, I believe that sharing our lives in this way with learners and each other is key to connecting and inspiring others. What makes us tick, and what makes our students tick? Then the next step is staying true and pursuing our goal. How can we get our learners to keep on the path to mastery in their interest area?

    • Funny you mention Tom Whitby. In Tom’s August 26th post, on his blog My Island View, he wrote a post titled “Sharing is not Bragging”. Whiby’s post was focused on educators not needing to feel humble and feeling ok to share their accomplishments or strengths with other educators. We need to share our own accomplishments, our own stories of growth and grit with our students. We need to tell them the details of the journey. How we failed at first, but kept plugging away. Don’t just skip to the happy ending. The two most important parts for our students to hear is the process of failure, frustration, grit, and success, and also that we teachers are hums too, and we learn something new about ourselves from time-to-time.

      • I agree that we need to share our stories. My colleague Dan Spencer frequently quotes Kevin Honeycutt that teachers are so often “Dying of humble” and that the “Cancer of education is isolation”. Twitter has a (mostly) great culture of sharing, but I do think that as you get better at telling your own story, you should start to focus more on telling the story of others.

  3. Thank you for your considerate response(s) to my comments. As the Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time says, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. You’ve got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” I agree that we risk the growth that comes from the struggle if each path we choose is downhill. We cannot act as water does seeking only to find its lowest level along the easiest path. The analogies keep coming…the butterfly cannot survive to fly without the struggle out of its Chrysalis. It is the fire that tempers the steel. I know I sound like a life coach right now, but it is so important that we keep exhorting our students and each other to be better, think bigger and take the necessary risks in learning. Iron sharpens iron and I thank you both for being iron for all with whom you share your wisdom.

  4. Ryan I suck at basketball. I am just under 5 ft tall and 100 pounds wet. I am however an excellent cheerleader and ninja warrior. Tiny girls are sneaky. In all seriousness, I really understand where you are coming from..practicing something just for the sake of getting better at it and not for the star, the sticker, the accolades or the trophy. It is okay if I don’t do well against you on a 1-1 situation. Will I laugh? Yes. At myself? Absolutely. Will I have fun doing it? Probably..and in that there is learning. I think when deep learning in a content area or in life is supposed to happen, there will NOT be a reward. I don’t get rewarded for making it in this economy as a single mom who works her ass off. I won’t get rewarded for all the work I do on the side to help my practice as a teacher..and I don’t get rewarded for helping out at church. No stars. No stickers, No extra money. But instead, what I do get is the inward satisfaction of a job well done. I hang my hat not on the trappings of this world with will this be part of my legacy that I leave behind. Can my children follow me? Can my students follow me? I am not about accumulating trinkets and a treasure piles. If I can pass this on to the learners in my classroom I will be satisfied.

  5. Thanks Ryan for getting my attention with the Rec Center story. I, too, spent hundreds of hours on those courts. Ahh..if only we had a “break” in the middle of the day now to play a little ball…

    Anyways, good discussion here about the difference between pursuing Feel Good tasks and actually suffering and growing in order to get better. Certainly this is one of the key promises of athletics and other extra curricular activities that schools give kids an opportunity to participate in.

    My thinking on this has been challenged since reading Ken Robinson’s “The Element”, which talks about finding your passion. More recently there has been push back on the Passion craze with books like Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. Todd Henry also has educated me on the root of the word “passion”, which is “To Suffer”. Check out those two discuss it here: http://www.accidentalcreative.com/podcasts/ac/ac-podcast-cal-newport-on-passion-and-work/

    Dweck says “When learning is a priority, challenge is preferred over validation” and this illustrates your point, Ryan, about the trouble with warm and fuzzy participation ribbons in our culture. While I do believe that we all (students included) should pursue Fun and Happiness in our work and our lives, this does not mean everything should be easy. Fun can be defined in many ways, and in a Growth mindset, challenges.. and even failure, can be part of a fun process of learning that ultimately can lead us to happiness. People with a Growth mindset “love what they are doing even in the face of difficulties”.

    When we are done focusing on Mindset, let me know if you’d like to dive a bit deeper with this discussion of passion, purpose, fun and failure. I highly rec’d http://dieempty.com/ and also have http://www.amazon.com/You-Cant-Fail-Doesnt-Count/dp/0615772552 on my short list.

    • Brad, thanks for your comments, and thanks for tying this discussion in with passion! I now have two new books on my short list thanks to you (Todd Henry’s & Dave Gunyon’s). I, for one, would really like to dive in further and discuss passion, purpose, fun, & failure later on with the two books you recommended.

      Above, you mentioned that, “…even failure, can be part of a fun process of learning that ultimately can lead us to happiness.” For me, the fail and learn process is one of frustration, not enjoyment. But, that’s ok. That’s learning. I am not having fun when I am taking hours to try and figure out that HTML code to make one of my websites do what I want it do do. That entire challenging process isns’t really fun for me. IT’s satisfying to know that I am not going to give up, and that I will spend all those hours until I figure it out. Sometimes it’s reaching out for help to end the frustration, sometimes it’s finding out a solution on my own. Not fun, just focused.

      I can’t get enough of this video. Yes, I often turn to sports for learning analogies, but this one really hits home. Too often our students only are presented with an inventor’s or innovators finished product. We teach our students the inventor’s success. We often overlook that very same inventors failures and turmoil. And, this should be the most important part of the innovator that we teach kids about. The inventor’s journey. Their failure and learning. Innovators hardly ever get it right on their first try.

  6. “Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. … Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.” Quote from http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/17/ok-plateau/ I saw this..and thought this fit the discussion well. Yes, we must move above the just okay! Learning to fail, with the correct mindset is refreshing!

  7. Sara Trotter says:

    Hi All 🙂

    Hope you are well. Can’t get over how gorgeous today was. I love fall- especially in MI!

    I have read all your comments, and genuinely find them interesting and thought-provoking, which is of course the purpose of such endeavors as this twitter-book-club. So, thanks to all for being part of my learning process.

    Reading this book and reading the responses it has provoked, takes me back to my early literacy instruction days: Rosenblatt’s Reader Response (Schema) Theory: namely, we all bring our own schema when interpreting books (or anything else that requires interpretation); she writes,
    “The special meaning, and more particularly, the submerged associations that these
    words and images have for the individual reader will largely determine what the work
    communicates to him. The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past
    events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment, and a
    particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be
    duplicated combination determine his response to the peculiar contribution of the text.”

    And so reading, as does life, becomes an individual experience; everyone pulling from what they know to create meaning. I love this because no one can be right or wrong, nothing is black and white; it’s all connotations and understanding. It reminds me how beautifully complicated language is: the power of words. For example, how one defines ‘fun’ may actually be close to the way someone else defines ‘success’; or, maybe they way someone defines ‘failure’ is the way someone else defines ‘losing’. It’s all so incredibly interesting.

    So, going back to Roseblatt’s theory, I read Mindset slightly differently…and I know that it has all to do with the relatively recent events in my life. And so, I don’t think of the growth mindset one dimensionally; in one domain. To have a mindset, surely it seeps in to all that you do; it’s ubiquitous. It’s not just learning that mindset effects, but it’s behaving, feeling and the deep thoughts that only we know we have.

    When someone asks me, “Growth or fixed mindset?” My immediate response is, “Growth, of course.” And, for probably 98% of my life, it’s true, I have a growth mindset. Especially when involving people other than myself :). But, at this point in my life, I would be lying if I said that I have a fully functioning growth mindset about 100% of the many compartments and complications in my life. That’s not to say that I don’t think I will get there, I will. I know that I will (I’m slightly goal orientated 🙂 ) But life throws curve balls, and when you are used to high and outside, there is an adjustment period (sports analogy for you Ryan 🙂 )

    All to say, how serendipitous that I am reading this book, at this time in my life.

    Again- thanks all for being part of my learning and indeed, growing process.

    • Brad Wilson says:

      “how one defines ‘fun’ may actually be close to the way someone else defines ‘success’ or, maybe they way someone defines ‘failure’ is the way someone else defines ‘losing’”

      Great observation… Authors who try to create a common vocabulary to try to describe various phenomenons fight this, but there will always be Context to determine unique meanings


  8. Sara Trotter says:

    Oh! One more thing- I’m up for whatever book experience is next 🙂

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