When I was working a terrible job, I had one pervasive mental narrative: "you can’t make money if you do what you love." I grew up being the responsible one in a family without much money in one of the poorest states in the US, so from a very early age, money was scary to me.
I learned a few clear and important lessons about life:
- Hard work is everything.
- Stay on the path.
- Get your education.
- Don’t take risks, and
- Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called work.
Finding your passion isn't easy. It's even harder with shitty self talk.
I carried those lessons with me into the work force and found myself working hard in a job I didn’t care about with people I didn’t get—and all the while, a secret fire burned within me, rising up on my lunch breaks and peeking out at me between pointless projects.
I told myself that I struggled to find my passion, but the truth was that I was hiding my goofy, empathetic, soulful self under a sensible, office-appropriate sweater set.
I kept dreaming of doing work that truly mattered, of creating things only I could make, wondering what would it be like to serve in a way that felt fulfilling and fun….and yet I always returned back to my cubicle and told myself the familiar story: "you can’t make money doing something you love, so why even try? Why be irresponsible, childish and selfish by ruining your bank account on a dream that won’t pan out?"
Then I met someone making a lot of money doing what she loved, and then another someone, and another, and soon, everything changed. The mental narrative collapsed, and within two years, I had quit my 9-5 job and launched a successful business that gave me not only more money than I needed, but the time and freedom I craved.
That freedom and fulfillment had been waiting for me all along…but I didn’t know it because I didn’t believe it existed, and I certainly didn’t think it would be available to me.
I wasn’t special, original, unique. I was just, well, me.
I look back at that earlier version of me and a chill runs down my spine every time I think about how close I came to settling for a mediocre life…how close I came to thinking that my limiting belief about work was reality. I almost gave up on my life’s work because of something (wrong) my parents had taught me 20 years earlier!
Not to hate on anybody’s parents (or society at large for that matter), but most of what we teach kids isn’t about how to have a fun, free, fulfilling life. It’s about how to stay safe.
So much of what we grow up with believing is true…just isn’t.
We impose limits on kids while they are exploring the world so they don’t get hurt or die, like: you’re not allowed to touch the stove. If you do, you’ll get burned. Sometimes this gets translated into murkier subjects, like: boys don’t play with dolls. If you do, you’ll get bullied.
Limitations are intended to keep you safe, but while some limits are helpful, others keep us small and too safe.
So how do you tell the difference between a true limitation and a limiting belief?
And how do you tell the difference between a true limitation and a fear-based excuse?
A limiting belief is exactly what it sounds like: a belief that limits you in some way. You usually absorb them through society, culture, or your family system.
They are easily disproven when confronted with evidence. Most of the time, you can’t even remember consciously adopting them…they’re just sort of…there. In my case, when I encountered real life humans making money doing things they loved, I could see that maybe my belief wasn’t Capital T true.
- Girls aren’t good at math.
- Men can’t be as nurturing as women.
- Older people aren’t good with technology.
- My ideas aren’t original enough to be successful.
- Creative professions don’t make any money.
- People only buy things they need, not things they want.
- Quitting my job to travel makes me irresponsible.
- This industry is too oversaturated for me to make a living.
Are you dealing with a limiting belief? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
- What’s a belief that I used to have that I now know isn’t true?
- Where am I telling myself stories that might not be true?
- What am I protecting myself from?
- What is something that I believe that drains my energy?
- Where did this belief come from?
- Do I really believe it?
- Is it harming me in some way? Is it stunting my growth?
- How can I let this belief go?
How to Get Rid of a Limiting Belief
If you’ve asked yourself these questions and you’re pretty sure you’re dealing with a limiting belief, it’s actually really simple to get rid of it once it’s been identified.
The problem with limiting beliefs is that they can feel true even when they aren’t, and the human brain tends to find evidence for what it already believes is true. It’s a psychological phenomenon called “Confirmation Bias.”
If you want to find evidence that a belief is limiting and untrue, your job is to find evidence to the contrary.
For example, if you grew up believing girls are bad at math, google “kickass female mathematicians” and poof! The limiting belief will dissolve under the reality that kickass female mathematicians do, indeed, exist.
Once you find that initial evidence, keep your eyes peeled for more evidence. It’s kind of like when you learn a new word and then see it everywhere. Once you find evidence that your belief is limiting, you’ll start to see it collapsing all over the place.
A True Limitation Is:
A true limitation is a lack of education, knowledge, time, or money that prevents you from accomplishing a goal. Be careful, though. Sometimes limiting beliefs masquerade as true limitations. For example, if you think you don’t have enough time to build your business while working a 9-5 job, you may just be making an excuse and in need of a little creativity on how to make more time for your passions.
A true limitation usually involves a lack of knowledge or a lack of skills. For example, when I started my business, I knew I needed a website but I had no clue how to build one, so I felt really stuck. I wasn’t telling myself limiting stories—I truly lacked the knowledge and skill set to build a website, so my prospective client pool was limited to people I could connect with in real life because I didn’t have the skill set to build the online presence I wanted.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- What skills and resources do I need in order to achieve my goals?
- What knowledge gaps are keeping me from success?
- What changes am I willing to make in order to break through my limitations?
- Where do I need to ask for help?
What do you do if it’s a true limitation?
First, get to the heart of what’s limiting you. Then, get the support, knowledge, and information you need to break through it. For example, a huge true limitation that I see with my clients is lack of knowledge. This is makes sense! In the early phases of hustling, it’s a bit like the Wild West in that the opportunity is endless, but there aren’t a lot rules or guidelines on where to focus when you’re starting a business.
It’s not that you’re telling yourself crappy stories—you’re simply doing something new and figuring it out as you go along. Since you don’t know what you don’t know at first, it’s easy for a lack of knowledge to come along and trip you up.
Remember how I was limited by my lack of knowledge on web design? Well, I took a course on how to build a Squarespace site, and voila! One week later, I had a basic site going.
I had been so afraid of the process that it was a major breakthrough for me. Instead of shutting down and letting the limitation run things, I choose to acknowledge the limitation and then ask for help.
I learned two important lessons then: It’s okay if I don’t know how to do something because I am good at asking for help and support, and “everything is figureoutable.” (one of my favorite Marie Forleo quotes)
Let’s talk about the magic of Google for a moment. Everything is figureoutable, and in many cases, the one thing that separates you from your dreams is your ability to take action toward finding out what you don’t know.
Don’t beat yourself up over what you don’t know. Research it. Learn about it. Figure it out. Move through it. Rest. Repeat.