I’ve spent a lot of time in school. Almost 15 years of my life. I was a pretty okay student. Early in life, I understood the expectations of the classroom and performed accordingly. Write the papers, read the books, say the things. You know the drill. I certainly did.
I haven’t been a traditional student for a few years, but lately I’ve been thinking about the value of the student mindset. When I was in university, I walked into every classroom with the expectation to learn. It was natural. It was easy. The dynamic in the room was already set up: I was there to listen and the prof was there to share their knowledge. There was nothing to prove. Everyone in the room already knew that I was clueless. That’s why I was in the class, to learn.
It’s much harder to take on that student mindset outside of the classroom. In the workplace and social settings it’s easy to fall into habits of trying to prove yourself and sound like the smartest or most successful person in the room. I’ve definitely been guilty of showing off some obscure (i.e. obnoxious) piece of knowledge so that everybody would know how “smart” I was. When I behave this way it’s usually because I’m feeling insecure about my standing in the social power dynamic. I need to rise to the top. I can’t have anybody thinking that I’m stupid or not capable. I can’t let anyone see my shortcomings.
This happens in the writing community, as well. We fight to be the smartest and most successful for sure, but we also fight to be the most productive, the most creative, or the most writerly writer. It’s always a race to outrank someone, somehow. We do it in real life, but we do it on social media more.
However, there’s only so long you can take this kind of constant social maneuvering. It’s a subconscious assessment of how you stack up to everyone around you. It’s constantly running just below the surface, and it’s exhausting. Eventually, I realized that there was an alternative to the rat race–the student mindset.
The student mindset is about more than just looking for something to learn in every situation. You can figure that out from a motivational poster. This mindset shift is about going deep and changing your approach to your relationships. It’s about accepting that it’s not weak to ask for help. That’s essentially what students do when they enter the classroom. They’re saying “Help me, I know nothing.”
I’ve always found it difficult to ask for help when it comes to my writing. People would offer to look at my work or make introductions to other writers, and I would find it hard to bring it up again when I was ready. I felt like I would be putting them out to remind them of their offer.
When I was revising my novel, I had to ask a few people to read my book and give me feedback. This was incredibly hard, because, again, it felt like a big ask, and I had nothing to give in return. A few of these people were experienced writers whom I have a great deal of respect for. They were even harder to ask because I had to put my pride aside and show my weaknesses to other writers who would see them more clearly than the average joe. What surprised me was that people were generally happy to help.
It seemed like a revelation. People actually wanted to help me. But, then I got thinking about how I’ve responded to other writers asking me for help. I’ve always felt honoured when someone asked me to read their work. When I’ve had to say no, it’s about time commitments and nothing personal. I’ve enjoyed helping out other writers who are just beginning their books. It feels good, and I think a lot of people feel the same way. They like to share their knowledge and invest in the student in the room. Why wouldn’t this apply to me and to you, too?
Taking on the student mindset doesn’t mean that you’re going to milk people for all they’re worth. That’s not what I’m talking about here. This is about being humble and acknowledging that you don’t have it all together. I’ve found that this approach has led me deeper into the writing community. Instead of seeing other writers as my competition, I see them as my friends and as people I can learn from.
I’m so, so grateful to all of the writers who have invested in me over the past few years as I’ve learned how to be a student again. I’m still working on it, so bear with me, but thank you for what you’ve done. It’s meant so much, and I hope that I can be that for someone else one day.