The Gringo with the Growth Mindset

Olvera Street in the 1930's and today

Olvera Street in the 1930’s and today

I attended a recent hotel Owner’s Conference in Los Angeles and in an unlikely place had an opportunity to consider how your mindset, the lens in which you view the world, is central to your growth and wellbeing.

At the conference we discussed the million-dollar plus list of renovations my staff and I would be making to our hotel over the next few months. Individually, these improvements would be beneficial to our guests, but how would my team manage all of these changes? I found myself focusing on disaster and failure scenarios.

So I took a long walk to clear my head and ended up on Olvera Street. Here in this tiny alley surrounded by an ancient mission and squat adobe homes is where Los Angeles humbly began. I ordered lunch and read about a man who dealt with real adversity and change – Joe Chapman, the first gringo in Los Angeles.

Joe was an apprentice shipwright on the wharves of Boston when he was shanghaied by pirates. The pirates sailed far from home and Joe had no way to escape. In 1818, while sacking the string of sleepy little Spanish missions along the southern California coast, Joe was captured. The Spaniards tied Joe behind a wild stallion and just as the reluctant pirate was about to be dragged to death, a beautiful senorita rode past and looked haughtily down at Joe. Guadalupe Ortega, the daughter of a powerful rancher ordered Joe untied. Before Joe could thank her the senorita galloped off.

Senorita Ortega had commuted Joe’s death sentence, but now he was a prisoner for life in a country that spoke not a word of English.

In the book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, author Carol Dweck, Ph.D., says that it’s more than talents and abilities that bring success—it’s how you view the world. A fixed mindset means you believe that your personal qualities are set in stone and you look for reasons for failure, while a growth mindset understands your qualities are cultivated through effort. Failing while attempting a challenge is the best way to develop and prepare for success in the future.

Joe Chapman could not get the beautiful senorita out of his mind. He was a pirate and a prisoner, but he didn’t let that define him. Joe Chapman was not afraid to fail. After many tries, he invented ways to make backbreaking chores easier for women. Eventually Joe convinced the men to attach timbers together with joints for stronger building frames that withstood earthquakes. Joe struggled, but eventually learned Spanish.

Soon the ingenuity of El Inglés became indispensable to all the ranches, estates, and missions from San Diego to Monterey, but most importantly to the Ortega family. Yes, Joe’s savior became his wife and they raised a happy family on a large ranch where the Santa Anna racetrack is today.

I thought about my upcoming hotel renovations. Joe would never allow his mind to focus on design and construction disasters, he would embrace the learning experience. Failures and mistakes? If they occurred Joe would build on them and become a stronger hotel owner. As I sat there in the little restaurant on Olvera Street, enjoying my carne asada, I raised my glass of sangria to Joe Chapman, the first gringo of Los Angeles, the man with the growth mindset who lived his life to the fullest because he allowed challenges and setbacks to make him a better person.