Life Lessons from the Library: Learn Like Terry!

The Mayfield Library staff has had an ongoing chess match with students for the past few weeks. We have no chess masters in the library, and the students have been trouncing us. And occasionally, we’ve been mocked by those same chess-loving students.

Terry, our main circulation desk person, has borne the brunt of this mocking, since he’s usually at the desk and the one who is drawn into playing. In fact, at one point, I told him if it were too much of a hassle, we’d take down the set and move on to something else.

He shook his head and said it was fine. He liked getting to know the students, and he was learning chess.

It was then that I realized that Terry was a living example of what I’d just been reading about in a book on student success. Terry was a “get better” rather than a “be good” learner. And that one attitude can make a real difference between success and failure.

You see, we live in a performance-based society. According to Heidi Halvorson, Ph.D., performance goals tend to lead us to focus on being as good or better as other people. There is nothing inherently wrong with such goals, except they have a tendency to get tied up with our sense of self worth. For example, Terry might have felt that losing at chess meant he wasn’t as good as some of the students in this skill and then gone on to think that maybe that meant he wasn’t as smart as they or as smart as he thought he was. When you start tying goals to self worth, it can be a quick slippery slope to depression with the end result being that you just stop trying.

But instead, Terry had a “get-better” goal. He had played a little chess before and enjoyed it. He didn’t expect to win because he was a beginner. He expected to make mistakes because HE WAS A BEGINNER. He enjoyed getting better each match, and because his self worth wasn’t tied up in the game, he was also enjoying getting to talk with and find out more about our students.

Research tends to show that students who have “get better” goals tend to seek out help more often, make a plan to work harder, and even recover faster from depressive episodes than those who have the “be good” mindset.

It is an attitude worth encouraging in our students, our children, our colleagues, and especially ourselves. So next time, you’re scared of trying something new. Remember Terry and do it anyway. You may not always be the best, but you can always get better.

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