How Well Meaning Words Can Invisibly Cripple Students- A Personal Journey Turned Mission


It was overhearing my Mom’s innocent statement to my Dad that influenced my actions for most of my life.  Learning about Fixed vs Growth mindset during my coach training changed my life.   As I work with students, I see that so many of them are self-limiting because they believe that they don’t have the abilities.   It’s especially painful to hear the source of their beliefs.  It’s often well-meaning teachers and their loving parents.  I know that it’s unintentional but a random comment can invisibly cripple the student.

Read on to learn about my own journey and also check out Carol Dweck’s article.  It’s why I believe that helping our students develop a growth mindset infrastructure is one of the greatest gifts that we can give them.  It epitomizes what it takes to be UNstoppable in academics and life.


Innocent comment changes my life

I was raised to believe that your intelligence was fixed and measured by the standardized IQ test of the day.  In fact, I remember the exact moment that Fixed Mindset was cemented into my brain.  It was an innocent comment by my Mom.  I know that she never ever intended for me to be self-limiting.    She was a good and loving Mom who would do anything for her children and had high hopes for my future.  It was her own belief system and the results of my standardize test that was passed on to me when I overheard her talking with my Dad.

“ Debbie’s not as smart as Jim but she tries hard.” 

I can tell you exactly where I was, what I was wearing and where she and my dad were sitting.  That’s how earth shattering of moment it was for me.    I bet if I could ask her about it today, she would tell me it was meant as a compliment because I know how much she valued hard work.  However, that one sentence has stuck with me through most of my life.

I took it to mean that I was not smart and therefore hard work was all I had going for me.  

Each and every time I struggled with a subject in school I would use that as supporting evidence in this fixed mindset hypothesis.

This did not stop me from setting  some pretty high goals for myself.  I racked up numerous awards and milestones hoping that it would disguise that I wasn’t smart.   I worked hard, really hard at life.    However, when I bumped up against areas where I struggled I chalked it up to not being smart enough.  Time to redirect because the smartness wall was immovable.

So when I was training as Life Coach and we began working on Growth Mindset, I had to face my own fixed mindset demons.  I did a lot of soul searching.  I was worried that I too had passed the fixed mindset onto my own children.   I read research that supported the idea that you can really learn anything.   I had a lot of coaching around my fixed mindset.

Slowly my fixed mindset muscle started to relax as my growth mindset muscle strengthened.  Being totally transparent, I know that fixed mindset still creeps up on me when I approach something that seems scary and hard.  Which is why I was relieved to read  that Carol Dweck believes we are a mixture of fixed vs growth mindset as humans.  She suggests that we must continue to nurture growth mindset.  We are a work in progress.


Fixed Mindset Hindsight

My “ Fixed Mindset hindsight” is what drives me.  It’s the reason I’m passionate, bordering on fanatical, about helping my students embrace their own Growth Mindset vision.  My hope is that they will never arbitrarily limit themselves based on a belief that they lack what it takes to make their dreams and goals a reality.  It is why I am an academic life coach.  It is why I rebranded my business UNstoppable Students.

It is personal and it is my mission to impart Growth Mindset to our students.

One Response to “How Well Meaning Words Can Invisibly Cripple Students- A Personal Journey Turned Mission”

  1. Anna Hall on

    Wow! What an admission. I am the middle of three sisters. And I have often referred to myself as the untalented middle sister. I enjoy art just like my older sister, but knowing I could not ever measure up kept me from things I would have really enjoyed. I chose musical theater instead just to keep from having teachers compare us. My mom was often the only woman in her engineering and math courses at Purdue. I longed for her to help me with math as a kid– but to her it was “new math,” and she just couldn’t do that. I still struggle with that limiting belief. The odd thing is that out of three daughters none of us are really great at math. I had to become a professional writer for her to come to me for help.

    Debbie, you must be a life saver to your clients. You are who I want to be someday.
    Anna Hall