BY RICK RIDDLE
I wasn’t a great student. At every parent-teacher conference, my parents heard the same thing – “She’s a solid average student, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Really? To say that to my parents, both with graduate degrees and movers and shakers in their professions, was like a death sentence. I am sure my mother was hoping that I would be able to find some really rich man to marry, so I would be well taken care of in my “averageness.” And all the while, my two brothers were “setting the world on fire” – one in medical school, and the other on the Dean’s list every semester. All of this “did a number” on me, and I just accepted the fact that community college was probably my limit. Perhaps I could get a decent job with an Associate’s Degree
Whether we hear it from others or somehow develop the idea that there is only so far we can go in life, many of us carry that baggage around with us and let it define who we are and what we are capable of. We get into a box, and there we stay. It’s pretty comfortable, actually. Until the passion and desire hits. And when it does, we don’t know what to do with it. We find something that excites us, something we want to do for our life’s work. We need to move to a new level, but all of that baggage is hanging on for dear life.
For me, the passion hit when I enrolled in an English comp class in that average community college for average students like myself. The instructor was amazing and wrote notes on all of those essays I wrote. I was creative, he said; I had a unique tone and voice, he said; I had real talent, he said; I just needed polish. This was, quite literally, the first time any teacher had seen something more than average in me. Wow. Could I actually pursue writing as a career? Nah. And all of those limiting thoughts flooded back in. Fortunately, this instructor did not give up. He insisted that I enroll in English Comp II, even though it wasn’t required, and I did.
It took two full years to get rid of my self-imposed limitations, but I am living proof that it can be done. Here are seven things we do to ourselves to limit our potential, how to go to war with them, and how to win.
- We Compare Ourselves to Successful Others
Growing up in a household of achievers in STEM fields, it was pretty easy to feel inferior. I never thought about success in some other field, because the comparisons with the successful people I knew were just too discouraging.
Even in the field of writing, which I ultimately chose for a career, there were these great and wonderful writers out there with skills and talents so far beyond mine. What was the use? Of course, that was ridiculous thinking.
Here’s the thing: There will always be those better than you; there will always be those not as good as you. That’s a reality. The only thing that really matters is to compare yourself today with yourself yesterday, or last week, or last year. You’re better than you were, and you have no way to know how great you really will get. That’s an astounding realization. There really are no limits.
- We Procrastinate, Insisting We are Not Ready
So when will you be ready? When that English instructor suggested that I pursue some freelance writing gigs, my first response was absolutely not – it was too soon. So, he introduced me to another student who was already doing this. He was a bit over loaded with writing at the time and asked me to write two blog posts for him.
So nervous, but excited too. I spent every waking hour of the next three days writing two 500-word blog posts. Looking back, it’s laughable. But it was the one thing that got me moving.
If you are procrastinating, take one small step – just one. Are you dreaming of starting your own business? Get online and do some research about entrepreneurship – there’s loads of information out there, and when you read others’ stories, you get excited and motivated to get moving. One step will lead to another.
- We Fail to Widen our Career/Social Circle
This is one of the most limiting things we do to ourselves. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to hang out with other entrepreneurs; if you want to be a musician, you have to hang out with musicians. If you stay in your current circles, you won’t grow. And, in your current circles, there are those who may be reminding of that old baggage you are gradually shedding.
Find where others hang out on and offline and go there. Join a related group or organization. Just being in their presence will help you remove those limitations you have imposed. If they can do this, so can you. Stay in the company of like-minded people.
- We Don’t Ask for Help
There is that thought within us that somehow asking for help is a sign of inability or weakness. In reality, there are very few, if any, successful people who have not had some form of help along the way. I had “built-in” help. Most people don’t.
It may be very difficult for you to overcome the hesitancy to ask for help. Here is a way around that. If you have widened those circles of acquaintances and friends in your niche, then you are obviously in discussions with them. Perhaps you attend a monthly meeting of a network group; maybe you have joined some online groups. You can bring up topics about which you feel “uneducated” or incapable right now and listen to the discussions. If you have an online association, you will also find that it is far easier requesting help through email, messaging, or Skype, than it may be face-to-face. And, many times, people will simply offer to help you without your even requesting.
Take all of the help you can get. You’re not taking it because you are limited; you are taking it because you’re smart.
- We Take a “No” as Permanent
J.K. Rowling is happy to tell her story of how she was told “no” by over 200 publishers before she finally got one to say “yes” to her first Harry Potter novel. She could have limited herself by taking the 198th “no” as the final and permanent one. She would still be a secretary today.
Choose to interpret a “no” as Rowling did. It really means “not right now” or “not just yet.” Refusing to accept a limitation, and adopting patience and persistence instead will pay off. It is one of the biggest factors of success.
- We Accept Other People’s Versions of Success
How we define success is pretty critical to getting rid of our limitations. Here’s how this works. In my family, getting great grades, going on to a prestigious school, and entering a highly respected profession was the definition of success. I lived with that definition growing up, and when it wasn’t for me, I set up big limitations – only capable of an Associate’s Degree and a mundane job that would get me by; never being a career professional of any sort; always feeling like a failure in the eyes of others. These were totally self-imposed and totally false.
Define success for yourself. It may not be lots of shiny eye candy; it may not be those letters before or after your name (Dr., Ph.D., etc.). It should be doing what you love – that’s where freedom lies.
- We Fear Failure
When we are afraid to fail, we “play small.” We take no chances; we stay in our boxes and comfort zones; and we reinforce all of those limiting thoughts that we have always had about ourselves. Most life and business coaches say the same tired thing. We learn from our failures. That’s good advice, but it’s meaningless if the fear is still there.
To push that fear into the background, here is a great exercise. Suppose you really want to follow your passion, but you know you could fail. Get out a piece of paper and write down everything that could happen if you fail. You may lose money; you may face criticism from some; you may be unhappy for a time; and you may even have to take a job you really don’t like much, at least while you re-group.
Now ask yourself these questions: Is the Earth still rotating on its axis? Are you still alive and breathing? Will there be a sunrise tomorrow? Are your body parts all still working well? It sounds like life and the world are still going to go on, despite your failure. When you can get things in perspective, you can dump the fear and be willing to try again.
My story has a happy ending. I love what I do, and there aren’t any real thoughts of limitations any more. It’s liberating. Think about these seven limitations. Are there any you are still holding on to? If so, you have some work to do, but the rewards are amazing.