Progress & Impact, It’s a Mindset!

What does an Olympic gold medalist, a mindset, and problem solving have in common?

You need not look any further than Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher, WVU biomedical engineering student and the first winner of a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in her recent TEDx WVU Talk.

Thanks to a mentor and colleague who shared her YouTube video that I highly encourage you to check it out here.Her TEDxWVU Talk focuses on developing the right mindset by embracing a “Growth Mindset” in our work for her it resulted in being the first gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.  Whether it is competing in the national rifle championships and the Olympics or undertaking your work as a board or staff member of a foundation or corporate giving program to improve our communities.

Especially in West Virginia, we get caught up in the day to day or what might be an overwhelming work load or negative attitude of seeing all the challenges not realizing our incremental progress on solving challenges.  We can be caught up in the busy work of our foundations, corporate giving programs, or personal philanthropy, but starting with the right mindset focused on the priority of learning and the evolving long-term work can be a healthier perspective. When we are working on our philanthropic efforts and grantmaking in challenging times from economic decline, natural disasters, an opioid crisis, or severe poverty, we might wonder what progress are we making or are our grantees making.

The reality is that our work as philanthropy requires a long-term view and we are ever growing and learning in our skills to lead and build sustainable change. Ms. Thrasher shares, “to build sustainable change that addressing habits doesn’t change things” for the long-term, however improving our core beliefs serve as our driving force behind our behaviors and the work we undertake.

The concepts that Ms. Thrasher shares relate to any profession as to how in our work, the challenges we tackle, and for philanthropy the grantmaking strategies we undertake that our level of talent evolves as the context changes. If we get caught up with the big goal of placing in the Olympic medal competition or solving hunger, we get distracted from the current work. Rather if we focus on doing the best we can on the current task or project, then we can evolve in our long-term success not getting overwhelmed or distracted by the much bigger task at hand.  She shared that at times during her rifle competitions if she focused on how will I place for the national championship or for a gold medal that her shooting was good, but not great.  When she focused on doing the best she could in the task at hand, her performance improved to being great. In particular, when we embrace a priority of learning and growth on our goal unpacking the different steps to get to the goal our performance, attitude, and focus improves.  As Ms. Thrasher mentions in her talk, that the power of beliefs drive our habits and actions based upon the current work underway.

Yes, we can get distracted about the future if we are thinking “what if we fail” or the “what could happen”, but sometimes the best thing to do is focus on the present moment and task.  It is more productive to focus on the present moment so you can master the craft of your work.  For philanthropy in West Virginia, unpacking the bold, big, and monumental goals with incremental steps letting go of the thought of “what if we fail” and embracing the “doing the best that you can” will result in you having greater success. For Ms. Thrasher, her acceptance of this approach resulted in her winning the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal. As she said, people see the crowning achievement of the gold medal, but she knows it required a lot of individual steps and goals over time to get there.

This is so true for our foundation and corporate giving’s work under our goals and focus of giving for it takes multiple steps, some big and small, to see incremental change. It’s critical that we take the time in “mastering our craft” while at the same time valuing the people, organizations, and programs along the journey in our work versus just a one day major award or achievement at the end.

As she shared, “Who we are and the circumstances we address are constantly evolving.” For our work in Philanthropy, the growth mindset is a great tool to assist us, as board members, CEOs, and staff, no matter our years of working in this sector or experience to allow:

  • our talent to evolve to each situation and project
  • embrace risk and not get caught up with overthinking failure
  • challenges make us stronger if we have the right mindset
  • apply consistent effort in each task despite the risks
  • prioritize learning to have a high-performance mindset

Using this wisdom from a young and accomplished leader can aid our work in philanthropy as your foundation or company tackles education, workforce development, community economic development, arts, health and human services, basic human needs, and much more can result in success in your long-term goals. Heck, you might even secure a Gold Medal, if philanthropy was an Olympic sport. 🙂

Wishing you much success and progress in your work as you embrace a growth mindset in this spring season!