You’ve heard of wine and cheese pairings, right? The concept is that the intense flavors of certain cheeses enhance the aroma and taste of certain wines; visit a nice restaurant, and the fine dining wait staff will be more than willing to explain this in detail.
Well pairings are important – put the right two things together and they draw out new flavors, or balance out strong ones, or just enhance each other in unexpected ways. (Hey! It’s like marriage!) And it’s not just for wine. When I watched The Sopranos with Cliff, I often wanted to pair the show with some dumb sitcom, just because I needed a comedy chaser after the violence of the mafia.
More recently, a friend had her birthday at a bar in Chicago that pairs beer with liquor. (Intrigued? I provided the hyperlink, because I’m helpful like that.) Well pairing beer and liquor is so last season compared with what I’m about to suggest. This is going to be Legend – wait for it – dary.
That’s my idea. We should all suggest book pairings. Because some books just fit well with others – there’s a theme, or one book cleanses the palate of the other, or they contradict in delightful ways.
So now that I have your attention (and you’re no doubt getting ready to add a note to the comment section of this post, sharing your own favorite pairing), let me share a recent accidental book pairing that has proven providential in my life.
The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown
Why You Should Read These Books
Before you read any further, take a second and answer this question:
Which statement do you believe to be more true?
a. Intelligence is primarily fixed. You’re either born with high intelligence, or you’re not.
b. Intelligence can be grown over time. With hard work and diligence, you can grow beyond your expectations.
We’ll come back to this question in a minute.
I read a lot of non-fiction, but rarely venture into the self-improvement category. Just the same, I’ve got some room for self-improvement. And these two books live at the edge of well-explained research and self-improvement, so that it’s easy to see the practical applications without feeling like there’s “three quick fixes for your life.”
Dweck’s book Mindsets is a researched exploration of the question above. Dweck proposes that at any given moment, you have one of two mindsets: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Fixed mindset people believe your capacity for intelligence is basically set. If something doesn’t come easily to you, then it may not be worth working for. Failure is a reflection on your character or capacity. If you think you can’t do something, better not to try and be known as a failure.
Growth mindset people, on the other hand, believe that intelligence and skill can be developed. Sure, there are boundaries – I’ll never be Air Jordan – but you can grow well beyond what you might imagine. Failure is a chance to learn and improve. Working harder for something increases its value.
The concept is simple (and perhaps just a little too black and white) but the results are extensive. Dweck walks through study after study that demonstrates the implication of our mindsets. Tell kids they’re smart, and when they take a test with challenging questions they quit when they can’t quickly find the answers. Tell kids they’re hard workers, and they persist until they figure the answers out.
Dweck believes this doesn’t just impact our job, school, or athletic performance. It may protect against depression. And growth mindsets are good for your marriage: if you, your partner, and your relationship can change and improve, then today’s problems are just bumps in the road rather than permanent flaws. That sounds more hopeful, right?
Cliff and I both soaked up the learning in Dweck’s book, and started applying it – especially in conversation with our kids. So today at Sam’s soccer class, I didn’t just compliment him when he scored a goal. I praised his alertness, the way he shared the ball with his teammates, and how went back to playing quickly after he fell and scraped his knees. Essentially, I didn’t tell him he’s good at soccer; I reminded him of the ways he’s working hard at playing.
Turns out I needed these lessons myself. You see, for the last year I’ve been researching doctoral programs, studying for the GRE, and working my way through the application process. I was pretty convinced that in August I’d finally be on my way to a Ph.D. And then, two weeks ago, a thin letter arrived in the mail, with two dreaded words: application denied.