Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Career Optimism and How To Define Work After Graduation

Nikki Green
13 min readMar 1, 2022


Today we’re going to challenge your brain and your current thoughts on experience and employment. Before you can figure out how to make a living, you have to figure out how you want to live. In the previous post, we talked about your values and the things that are important to you.

Need a break from reading articles? Want to just listen instead? Below is a transcript of Episode 14 of my podcast, Stand Up & Stand Out. If you’d prefer to listen, head over to our website or find us where ever the cool kids hang out that do podcasts!

As you prepare to graduate I know many career coaches and counsellors want to sit you down and jump right into writing your resume and landing interviews. But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know how to position yourself for the right role. And if you can’t reframe your past experiences to show the correlation with the new experiences you want, you won’t land the job of your dreams.

This last week, I was volunteering at an event here in Chicago, and I met several amazing individuals from all walks of life. During the event, I was sitting next to the photographer and we got to talking. I asked him if photography was a hobby or his full-time job. His response sounded a lot like many I’ve heard from others, and even myself over the years.

“Oh, I’ve never had a job.” the photographer said

And then he proceeded to provide a lengthy list of amazing opportunities and experiences he’s had through working as a photographer.

“Um, sounds like you’ve been working pretty hard for someone without a job” I replied

“Oh, well, you know, I don’t get a paycheck, it’s not like a job, a pay stub.” He said

“Um, but you get paid, right? It’s not just a hobby that you do for fun, is it?” I asked

“Uh, oh yeah, I get paid, but it’s so much fun. I meet people. I travel, I capture amazing moments in people’s lives.” He said

“Sounds like you have the best job, the job that everyone else is looking for, but haven’t yet found and you get to pay bills while you enjoy the job, that’s so awesome,” I reply

He said, “I never thought about it like that, I guess you’re right, thanks.” He said

And aren’t we all photographers and videographers in this generation capturing every moment of our lives and the lives of those around us on social media, the importance of this profession, it could be the pinnacle of the next decade.

Those that don’t just add filters to hide the flaws of the current situation, but show the reality of our world with all its beauty and its flaws. It’s a real talent. In my book, “I laugh in the face of Danger,” chapter 12 is called: “WORDS have meaning — going beyond ‘Just’,” where I talk about my struggle with this concept. Early in my career, I downplayed my experiences. I had some perfect idea about what a resume-worthy career experience entailed. I was fortunate to have a random coworker point it out to me. All experiences are valid and they all lead you toward the path of your passion. We need to stop thinking in these rigid terms of “work” and “job” and “career,” the world doesn’t work like this anymore, and it hasn’t for a long time. There is no nine-to-five, even my parents worked a regular schedule and sometimes two jobs to make ends meet. I don’t know a single person my age that works normal hours, whatever that is. We all work as needed when needed and flex our life around that schedule. My parents taught me to work hard, but that work ethic never really did me any justice and Silicon Valley just allowed poor managers to leverage my energy, to reduce hiring. If I can do the work of two people at 70 hours a week, why hire another person at 40?

In one of my recent Medium articles, my entrepreneurial year and review, I talk about an important concept and I want you guys to think about this - If money is no object, what do you do with your day?

How would you spend it? When someone asks about my dream job, this is how I start the day. I challenge you to sit back and think about this concept, forget the degree. And the years spent achieving it. Forget your parents’ voice in your head telling you, you have to have health benefits and, you know, worry about your salary.

Just let the creativity flow. And dream. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a year of pure creativity to chase this dream and make it a reality, but it didn’t come without the same doubts many of you might be feeling after graduation. “I’m unemployed,” my mind whispered. “What will people think? What are you going to do with your days?”

Keeping myself busy. That’s never been an issue. Keeping myself focused. On the other hand, it’s always a struggle. Over the past year, I’ve also found myself falling into the bad patterns, taught to me by my parents, about working hard and reinforced with the insane hours of Silicon Valley. I realized I needed to rethink what it means to work.

Work itself can be a confusing word. It means so many things and it has so many uses. Work can be a verb, a noun, an adjective. We work to raise our kids, maintain relationships with family and friends, and we even work to maintain healthy habits like going to the gym or worshiping at our version of church. I realized that work in my mind was always attached to this word hard, making me think it was difficult, it was challenging, and it was meant to be a struggle. I wanted a new association to words like easy, enjoyable, fulfilling. I realized I needed to change my work state of mind and begin to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. For those of you following along on YouTube, you’ll see some visuals for the next couple of sections, just to kind of bring home the point.

What does it mean to have a job? If you look “job” up in the dictionary, it says “a paid position of regular employment.” Well, that’s pretty specific, I think. Regular employment. I get money. Okay. I’ve had lots of jobs in my life. So how is that different from work? When I look up work, work is “the physical or mental aspect of effort or activity.”

Hmm. Well, I think it’s kind of funny work isn’t defined by money, but a job is. And lastly, a career is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life with opportunities for progression.” So wait, what’s a significant period of my life? Uh, has it happened already? Am I still waiting for that significant period?

How do I know if I’m progressing? There seems to be no simple answer to these word riddles. It’s no wonder we all struggle with these concepts. And the best one, the one I liked the most was, “career is a metaphorical journey through learning work and other aspects of life.” Um, so if we think about that career is more about your development, your growth, not the growth of your paycheck and not the amount of time you spend performing that activity each day, or even how long you’ve been at the same company. Your development, your career. We need to get this idea out of our heads, that we’re going to do the same thing forever.

If you think about your career and your progression it’s about what you want to learn. It’s about what makes you happy and how you’re being fulfilled. Doing the same thing for their whole life. Maybe that was true, the boomers. But the last two generations aren’t following this. So why should you, I know you’re kind of panicking because, well, you just went to school for a degree and you’re assuming this is going to teach you enough to get you on your path, but it’s only the start.

Things are going to change. They’re going to evolve in ways you can’t predict, and you’re going to have to keep learning new things. Just like that definition, part of your career is learning. And many people have had to pivot to transform following this pandemic. It wasn’t expected. It wasn’t planned. And if they don’t have this mindset about learning and growing, they are struggling.

And so I want to help you guys not struggle to start with this mindset from the very beginning. But even though it wasn’t expected and planned, the question is, now what? The inspiring Jocelyn Brady brain coach joins us to share some of her thoughts on that exact question.

Take it away, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn: March 2020, we all remember that. All of my contracts with these multi-billion dollar brands vanished. Oh my God. I learned this as a kid, but now in my later thirties, having to face this again, there’s nothing like losing everything to show you what’s possible. You have to face that question again. Now you’re going to have to face that question again, over and over and over. And that’s when I decided fuck it. I’m embracing this. I’m doing this full-time. Embrace my role as a brain coach and I love it. You know what that might change and that’s okay.

But right now I get to help other people take that leap into the unknown when everyone else is telling them that it’s crazy, I get to help them and encourage them and be that voice that even their own brain might not provide. You know, your brain is designed to help you not die. And sometimes it comes at the cost of you pursuing what makes you feel most alive.

Nikki: So, what do I mean when I talk about a work state of mind versus an entrepreneur’s state of mind? Maybe in school or maybe in books or YouTube videos, you might’ve heard of two concepts called a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. When you have a work state of mind or a fixed mindset, you think about work in a very fixed way that it’s external to you. And then you can very easily become disgruntled because your satisfaction with that job is based on external factors, which you don’t control.

Let’s say my boss doesn’t appreciate my hard work. That’s usually a pretty common one. That’s always a tough one to reconcile, and again, it’s out of your control. Tell me the tasks to be done and I’ll complete them on time.

We are sort of carrying forward that fixed mindset we have from school. Here’s my syllabus. Here’s my assignment. Here’s when the midterm is, here’s the finals. I know what these deadlines and milestones are, they’re very finite and I can do things in a packaged way and be done and move on to the next. Work rarely works like that, even when you have projects, they may carry over. You may have stuff you have to do. You have to pass from one person to the other. It’s not going to be as simple as that past probably your first year or two when you began working. And then again, external factors like, okay, where’s my paycheck, waiting and depending on others to pay you and making sure they’re paying you properly and fairly for the amount of work and the type of work that you’re doing. And lastly, is this day over yet? When all of these things continue to weigh on you with this work mindset, you get stuck in this rut of it, it’s just not fulfilling that those tasks don’t always keep that momentum going inside of you.

I’d like to have people sort of start to switch and grow their mindset. Back to our career definition again at the heart of all of this is school is not the end of your learning journey. Your career is the beginning. This is when you get to tactically start learning some of those things hands-on and then adding on to them, adding on a real-life example of what it means to do these things, which always helps you really figure out, do I actually like doing this?

We like to do new things. We like to have new challenges and that’s part of what keeps a job interesting. And if you’re always waiting for someone else to give you that new task, and you’re not raising your hand, you’re going to miss out. You’re going to miss out on development for your own sake of guiding your path forward.

And last, taking risks and learning from mistakes. Maybe you think something about a job is going to be interesting. Particular company, a particular boss, a particular type of work, but you get in there and maybe it’s not. Or you try to do something bigger than your britches, as my mom would say, something that you just don’t quite have the skillset to be able to do, but that’s okay.

In a growth mindset, you accept your mistakes as learning lessons, you learn from them, you move on, you take risks, and you get comfortable. You teach that constant adaptability. And now with this current generation and the way that work is happening for many of us, I like to add a layer on this, about the entrepreneur’s mindset.

This talks about thinking beyond yourself and the growth mindset you’re still developing who you are, but as you think about things in an entrepreneur’s way, and something I’ve had to do extensively this year, you start to think about the bigger picture you think about things like, “I wonder how my employees are doing today.”

Now, when you have a job, maybe you don’t have employees, but you will think about it. How are my coworkers doing today? I wonder how my boss is feeling today. Thinking about the ecosystem around you, rather than just yourself. With this great funnel of ideas, the revenue’s going to be coming in no time, instead of just worrying about your paycheck, actually being actively involved in how do I grow revenue or cut expenses or wherever you happen to sit within the food chain of an organization.

There are many ways that you can optimize your time and really drive home new experiences for the business and yourself. And then instead of watching your watch and wondering when the day is going to be over, waiting for that last zoom call to end and hitting click, get me out of here, maybe, hey, what if I just spent 30 more minutes?

Not because I want to impress the boss, not because, you know, I was told to, and I’ve been forced to do this, but because I want to do something that’s interesting to me. I want to gather people together and brainstorm on something that’s been challenging all of us. An entrepreneur’s mindset takes that growth mindset to this next level of change, adaptability, growth, community. It’s more holistic, which I love. So think about these things, we’ll do some takeaways in the notes again, so you can check them out on the website.

Before we sign off, I want to bring back Jocelyn one more time with just so many wonderful nuggets. Talk about how to explore yourself as you think about these big questions and not get overwhelmed by the immensity of it.

It is tough because there are so many unknowns, but she has a great, great nugget of information for you on this one. So listen.

Jocelyn: That’s what I want for you. Do that thing, follow that thing, take that leap. It’s scary. There will not be a perfect job. And I’ll leave you with this. There’s an end-of-life care specialist. Her name is Bronnie Ware, you may have heard me talk about it, anybody who knows me. I talk about this a lot, like I said, deathbed you. Bronnie works with people in the last few weeks of their lives in hospice. And she says the top regrets of the dying consist of this. I wish I lived a life that was true to me and not what someone else expected. They say, “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I’d spent more time with my friends. I wish I had allowed myself to be happier.” She says that fear of change had them pretending to others and themselves that they were content when deep down they long to laugh properly and have silliness in their lives again, enter a brain cap, or dress like a penguin, another thing I like to do.

We can talk more about that later as well. So now what? That’s a question for all of you. You don’t need to know exactly what it is yet. You don’t need to know what you want to be when you grow up or what you want to be by the time you’re dead.

Just allow yourself to explore and to play and to follow your curiosity. You never know where that’s going to take you. So I would just ask you what is one thing? You can do today to make that happen. If you love photography, can you take one photo? If you love books and writing, can you write one sentence?

What is one tiny, tiny step you can take today? Nothing is going to be perfect, but you’ll never know what’s possible until you try. So now what?

Nikki: Thanks, Jocelyn. That was awesome, as always. So think about it that way. Think about one step. One thing you can do, it’s great to dream, but I know many of us get overwhelmed with the how for so long, we’ve been given this step-by-step syllabus of what to follow and to think too big gets us overwhelmed, starts to create anxiety, we already had that episode go back to Episode 12. We’re not here to stress, we’re not here to start thinking bad about ourselves, that we’re not going to get there. Just try one thing, take that risk. And if it’s a mistake, it’s a mistake. It’s okay. We have a very long journey ahead of us and you won’t know if you don’t take the first step and don’t be afraid to step sideways, step left, step right or go twice as fast if you’re ready. There are so many ways to do this path and you need to customize it to yourself. So back to today’s important question. If money is no object, what do you do with your day? How would you spend it?

Thanks, everyone for reading. I can’t wait to see what you guys are thinking of as possible options for work, happy to provide some more inspiration.

Thanks to our guest, Jocelyn, you’ll find her information on our website as well as in our social media and the show notes as always. Thank you guys for joining us and good luck with dreaming your big dream of work.



Nikki Green

Nikki has dedicated her life to assisting others reduce fear and go after their dreams. Her greatest passion is empowering people to reach their full potential.