Taking the Last Penalty Kick

I walked out of the very first meeting of this class at the beginning of the semester imagining myself in a situation that I knew I could understand: 

You’re standing in front of a soccer goal. The ball is planted indifferently on the 12 yard penalty kick line. You have a 50/50 chance to score. The only obstacles in your path are the goalkeeper, and your own mind. It’s the same thing for everyone who has ever taken a penalty kick in soccer. Anyone from the whole team that took a penalty kick right now would have the exact same ball inflation, the exact same ball location, and the exact same chance. You can feel the fear of failure in your chest. You know the goalkeeper is good; it’s going to be difficult to be fully successful, but you know you are very capable. Yet you still can’t move. The few seconds of pure immobility before you decide to take your shot is terrifying. Every possible factor and outcome calculates through your mind before you even shift the weight of your feet on the ground. The second you get into position to strike the ball is the most vulnerable moment you’ll experience, the moment when your fight or flight instinct kicks in. But you progress, despite your fear. You take a step, kick the ball, and follow through. You walk back to the bench where the rest of your team waits for you, and you know they’ll all pat your back and say “good job” no matter the outcome.

The fact that I can actually reflect and feel accomplished in a class despite my overall grade is a huge feat for me. I fall into patterns of giving less than my best, and when that isn’t enough to get a good grade I feel defeated, regress and start the cycle over again, rather than having faith in myself and learning from my previous work. I was convinced that my best would never be good enough and that I would just have to live with that, rather than understanding that I already am good enough, and I just need to be confident. This course absolutely did that for me, especially the day we learned about fixed vs. growth mindsets. I used this youtube video to learn more about the fixed vs. growth mindset, since I could not find the one Dr. McCoy showed us, and used this video to assist me in writing this essay. Struggling with anxiety can feel a lot like taking a penalty kick a few times a day. Even though I was given everything I could possibly need to be successful in this class thanks to Dr. McCoy, I still was terrified of taking the shot. Everyone was given the exact same class time, deadlines, materials, support and so on, so everyone had a legitimate equal chance of being successful. For each person, when it came to participating in class and writing for the blog or an essay, you might have shot the ball and scored or you might have taken a shot and completely missed. But if you neglect all that you had been given and give up on yourself, like if you gave up and just never kicked the ball, you just made a fool of yourself. Regardless of the potential success or failure, my reflection today is to congratulate myself for the fact that I still did everything in my power to aim for success. I know this is a winded version of “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, but I never really felt that I truly experienced and understood that message until now.

I had many outside factors in my life this semester that proved to be significant obstacles in my academic life. With my personal life significantly weighing down my academic life, of course I would be trapped under the hefty weight of a fixed mindset. In my first blog post, ironically titled Why Am I Here?since I had no legitimate goals or really any clue what I was doing, my uncertainty and lack of confidence is pretty evident both in my own opinion and as reflected from my grade. It was my lowest grade of all of the blog posts, and that wasn’t the best way to start off a semester that already had many setbacks. This is what set the stage for the development of my fixed mindset.

It wasn’t until a month later that I wrote my next blog post, Fallen Angels, whereas Dr. McCoy put it I “broke through a damn”. It was very off track timewise of the goals I had made in class for blog posts; I had planned to write two posts a month, and that was a great weakness that I had even with a transition into a growth mindset. However, I did see significant change in the quality of my content, which resulted in a change in my grades. In this blog post I included a more cohesive and articulate map of my thinking, and although this blog post was very delayed, it was a step in the right direction towards getting out of my fixed mindset. In the beginning of the post I engaged in self reflection that ultimately helped to set me up for this paper. I still had a lot to work on though because I still faced my future blog posts as impending obstacles — a big indication of a lingering fixed mindset. In the following posts, Optical Illusions and Parallel Fulcrums, I still struggled to meet the expectations had for myself in terms of grades and quality content that I was proud of. When looking back on these posts now, I realize that I was not very confident in the final product I had submitted. For both of these posts I was trying very hard to create content so that I could meet my goals of submitting two posts a month. But as I pursued this goal so intently, I lost sight of the purpose of them. My goal was to put something on the page in order to get a grade, and I did that. But having that mindset made those posts obstacles that I had to tackle in order to meet my goal, rather than pieces to the puzzle of completing a goal: creativity.

Focusing on measurable accomplishments, such as a numerical grade, is a big sign of having a fixed mindset. I let the idea of a grade dictate what I wrote about. However, even though my last few blog posts did not earn perfect scores, I was not feeling anything short of pride and accomplishment. I began to realize that the only way for me to improve my next blog posts and break away from my fixed mindset was to stop viewing my blog posts as obstacles and rather as opportunities to experiment with my writing and ideas. In Backtracking, I once again engaged in some reflection, and used this reflection on my previous work to inspire and help create new content. I began to take creative risks after working on Starting Over After the End of the World with my group rather than holding back because of the fear of sounding silly or not making sense. They made me realize that I actually do have great ideas and none of them sound silly; they valued my opinion! One specific risk that I took was in What’s the Harm in Learning, when I tackled the topic of animal testing and morality. That seemed like a very dense and difficult topic to tackle when I first thought of the idea, and if it weren’t for my increasingly bettering growth mindset emerging, I don’t think I would have written it due to a lack of confidence. But when I took that shot and attempted to write the post to my best ability, I did really well and felt incredibly proud of myself and the hard work I put into the post. It was after this blog post that I truly felt my mindset completely change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. In my remaining blog posts- Kinetic Sand, Can the Present Shape the Past and Contemplating the How– I took creative risks, challenged myself and worked hard. Fortunately, my grade did do very well for these posts; but the difference now is that a perfect grade was no longer my goal.

When reflecting on the course of this class, I was able to use blog posts to demonstrate my progression from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Through reflection on my blog posts I was able to identify how that progression happened. I noticed that there will always be set backs, as it would be almost impossible to just have continuous, positive progression without relapses. Yes, some posts throughout may have faltered in terms of measurable accomplishments like quality, grade, confidence, which all were only relevant to my previously fixed mindset. However, I used those period of relapse to improve by working hard to improve those things, and being creative and confident along the way. I don’t believe that the fixed mindset I started with yielded complete garbage in my blog posts, and I also don’t believe that the growth mindset I ended with yielded perfect blog posts. But that is the beauty of reflection: it’s never ending because perfectionism is an impossible goal. I made my goal to be to just take the shot, and use that experience to reflect, grow, and make strides to improve.

I walked out of the very last meeting of this class at the end of the semester imagining myself when I started this class, and I understood.

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