Why you need to believe you can learn and grow

“Continuous improvement” was very in vogue when I worked in the Civil Service.

This is both a good and a bad thing.

The “growth mindset” states that it is far healthier, and more effective, to believe that your skills and talents can be improved through effort.

They are not inborn and fixed in stone.

However, this needs to be balanced by avoiding seeking the perfect result.

The idea that there is always more to learn can help you find the balance.

You and your knowledge are never “perfect” - so aiming for that is a false goal.

Instead, aim to learn and grow.

And this means honestly and humbly admitting that you don’t know everything, and there is room for growth!

Some people struggle with this.

I know I wasn’t always very good at admitting I didn’t know something at work - I felt like that would be a sign of weakness.

I came to realise that it is, instead, a sign of strength.

This tension is very human – and, as usual, the Ancient Romans had a myth to illustrate every facet of human behaviour...

Jupiter, the King of the Gods, looked down on his Kingdom one day.

He was very pleased with it.

He was feeling particularly fond of the animals he had created.

Some were beautiful; some were talented; some were entertaining.

He thought he’d done a good job.

But, as he was feeling very generous, and he realised there was always room for growth, he decided he’d offer them a gift.

So he descended down to the earth in his fiery chariot, and called all the animals to him.

“I, Jupiter, King of the Gods, have decided, in my wisdom and generosity, to make you an offer.

Each of you has particular talents: Monkey, with its long tail to swing through the trees; Zebra, with its camouflaging stripes; Otter, with its amazing swimming ability.

But there might be more that you each want.

So I am going to give each of you a chance to ask for an extra talent. I, Jupiter, your creator, can do this.

So think carefully and ask wisely.”

The animals heard Jupiter’s words, and there was a murmuring among them.

Then Bear coughed.

“Well, Jupiter, now you mention it, I’ve always thought that the Elephant looks a bit stupid. I mean, what on earth is that long trunk all about? And those ears?!

We’re both big, but I’m in excellent proportion - I am a very fine form! Elephant looks ridiculous. Can you do something about that please?”

Jupiter was a bit surprised by Bear’s words - he’d told each animal to ask for an extra talent, not to start criticising each other.

But before he could say anything, Antelope spoke up.

“Bear’s right! Elephant does look ridiculous. But do you know who looks even more ridiculous? Giraffe! That long neck is a joke.

I am beautiful and elegant, and to be honest, I am offended to be sharing the plains with such a stupid looking animal. Jupiter, please can you sort that out?”