Fighting My (Invisible) Limiting Beliefs
For a long time, I thought I didn’t have limiting beliefs. For a long time, I thought no childhood experience got in the way of my success. I never said anything about it publicly, of course. Why would I? Still, I secretly believed I was over the “mindset stuff.” Was I arrogant? Maybe. I simply felt as though I always had a growth mindset, always had a good attitude, and was predestined for success. It just was who I am, I thought. I never liked the labels like “limiting beliefs,” anyway. The personal development community has a way of using labels ad nauseam.
Now, although I still dislike a lot of the “mindset stuff,” I’ve come to understand my biggest blind spot—my biggest limiting belief, if we want to call it that. But before we get into this, I should add that I believed I was over the “mindset stuff” because of the nature of its discourse. Personal development authors and speakers often focus on traumatic childhood experiences. More often than not, they talk about how one goes from merely surviving to living, and from living to thriving.
I was fortunate enough not be to be traumatized as a child. I was also fortunate to find a passion early on, writing, which challenged me to grow my skills and gave meaning to my life. I woke up one day, at 21 years old, with the realization I’d won the lottery of life: I found purpose and meaning to my life, and I was thrilled to be on this earth. Because of that, it was hard for me to relate to what the personal development gurus were saying.
But sometimes, the lack of tragedy is a tragedy in and of itself. I grew up in a middle-class household in a small town in the province of Québec, Canada. My father worked for the government. He still does. My mother stayed at home to raise my older sister and me. I had a happy childhood—ordinary and uneventful. My parents were loving, caring, and mindful. Although they raised me differently than most other children in my environment, I encountered no traumatic experiences.
My parents never abused me. I almost never got bullied at school. I was encouraged to follow my passions, which helped me gain confidence. I wasn’t a popular kid, but I knew how to play my cards. I managed to find the right balance between order and chaos. After all, every teen needs to rebel at some point or another. My parents, never too controlling, gave me a solid framework. They had some non-negotiable, but overall, they were relaxed.
In fact, my parents were even a bit too relaxed to my liking. I sometimes wished they were a bit more like other parents. I sometimes wished they would tell me, “go and find a degree that will make you money.” I sometimes wished they would push me toward discipline, focus, and self-improvement. Why? Well, I’ve always liked the idea of financial success. But it turns out my parents couldn’t care less about it. So they said nothing of the fact my sister studied arts and I studied English.
My Limiting Belief and the Two Edges of an Education
I would argue that my parents gave me the best education they could have. If you ask me, they did a great parenting job. I would go so far as to argue they are the reason why today I am successful. Yet I’ve come to realize that with such blessing comes a curse. Although my parents encouraged me to explore my creativity and follow my passions, they also instilled in me an unconscious belief I yet have to overcome fully.
That belief is that the highest heights are for other people.
My parents are simple people. They like good food, good wine, good books, and good times in nature. They’re humanistic atheists and lean left on the Canadian political spectrum. Success to them means something very different than for me. They are not the type to want to write books, build businesses, and influence others. They love their little nest, and they think it’s where they belong.
While I appreciate my parents’ sentiment, I don’t relate to it, and it’s often put me at odds with them. I’ve always liked entrepreneurship, I’ve always been interested in financial success, and I’ve always liked the idea of making an impact on other people. These are the things that bring people to the top of the mountain in our society. But the top of this mountain, for my parents, is essentially meaningless, and not attainable—at least that’s the message I get from them. I’ve had conversations with them about my goals, during which I felt as if talking to a wall.
The End of Innocence and Coming to Terms
It recently occurred to me that my parents had instilled this limiting belief in me when I listened to a podcast featuring Christopher Salem, who talked about the inner critic and limiting beliefs. The podcast started as usual. He described what he does and shared a little bit about his story. He mentioned how his childhood experiences caused him to seek validation and feel anger, which led him to escape through sex and alcohol.
Up to that point in the podcast episode, I couldn’t relate. There was nothing I could identify with. I thought that what Salem shared was interesting, but ultimately, it didn’t apply to me. I kept listening still. The podcast host then asked how he was able to lead a successful life after dealing with addictions. Salem replied that it all boils down to routine and consistency. He laid out his morning routine, which includes 20 minutes of meditation and journaling.
I was never good at staying consistent with meditation and journaling. But upon being prompted by the podcast, I decided to meditate and journal a little bit. I sat down on the floor facing a mirror in an empty room in my apartment. I sat on a small cushion and alternated between closing my eyes and looking at myself in the mirror. I wore a casual, dark v-necked t-shirt. What struck me about my reflection was that the lighting made half of my face a little darker than the other. I stared at my half-dim-lit visage.
During my meditation session, I thought about nothing and everything. I thought about my childhood, my parents, my experiences, and how far I’ve come. I recently moved into a brand new apartment near downtown Toronto, Canada. A little over a year ago, I never would have thought I could afford such a place. I’d never thought I could be running my business full-time and be successful with it. Why?
Because I was taught to believe that the highest heights are for other people.
As I stared into my own reflection, I couldn’t help thinking about all the targets I’ve missed, all the struggles and frustrations I’ve experienced in the past year. I couldn’t help thinking how I’m still nowhere near I want to be (the continual condition, of course.) I thought about who I wanted to become and the mentors who inspire me. I thought about the people I admire, my desire to be as successful as they are, and my ruthless commitment to getting as far as I can in my pursuits.
And it finally occurred to me that there was indeed something in my childhood that has been getting in the way of my success: I was led to believe, unconsciously, that there is a class of people whose successes, financial and otherwise, cannot be replicated and who are unreachable. The people at the top of our society were born this way, had an intrinsic advantage over others, and we do not access these heights if we’re not of these people.
There it was, exposed at last.
There’s no need to describe the absurdity of it, but this belief has been at the back of my mind for some time. I remember telling my parents about an apartment I was looking into in Toronto, and when I told them what I’d pay for it, they said, “Well, you’re not part of the bourgeoisie. Why would you pay that?” This was perhaps the most explicit testament to their mindset.
In truth, the rent wasn’t outrageous. But it was expensive relative to where my parents live because Toronto is one of Canada’s most expensive cities. The apartment was a simple, but nice, one-bedroom not too far from the downtown area. It was well arranged, though not luxurious. Yet for my parents, paying this kind of money for a place to live indicated being part of a social class to which we do not belong.
And when they said these words, they made obvious what I should have suspected before.
The apartment anecdote points to something deeper. My parents didn’t know how much I was making with my business. I hadn’t told them because if I did, it would only make sense to tell them how much I’d invested upfront in getting the training and coaching necessary to do so. It would seem an astronomical number in my parents’ eyes, so I decided not to tell them about it. For context, I had moved back to their place after COVID-19 caused me to precipitously leave the United States, where I had been working on a short-term contract.
Realizing this truth about myself made me reconsider events from the past—feelings I’ve experienced, too. From the age of 15, I was always entrepreneurial in spirit. I always had ongoing projects and ideas to keep me busy. I wrote, played music, and tried to figure out business ideas. It helped me kill the boredom I was destined to feel in my small town. It gave meaning to my life. But there remained a problem: I could never stick to one thing. I juggled between different things, going in one direction, then in another. I could never commit to one thing and keep at it long enough. It would be fair to say I suffered “shiny object syndrome,” but the problem ran deeper than that.
The core issue, I now realize, is that I couldn’t commit because deep down, I thought it was futile. I didn’t see the heights I could reach if only I stuck to one thing; I could only see the predicament of mediocrity: doing well enough, but never to the point of being visible. And truly, this was the problem. According to other people, I was “successful.” People in college referred to me as an “accomplished writer,” even though I’d never published anything. They said so simply because I wrote a lot and couldn’t shut up about writing. (Nothing has changed in that department.) But while some people called me successful, I could only see what I hadn’t achieved. I could only see where I truly wanted to be.
In other words, I could only look to the top of the hill—the Tony Robbins, the Brendon Burchard, the John C. Maxwells, etc.—and saw these heights as unattainable. Why? Because I believed these people had an inherent advantage. I believed it was something only “them” could do. Yet I would come to realize that they didn’t, that they started exactly where I started.
This is the problem of presentism and our society’s obsession with the glorious side of success. It had never occurred to me that the people I looked up to started in no better circumstances than I did. They became who they are because of who they chose to become, not because of who they already were when they started.
Studying Inceptions Trumps Motivation
A lot has changed for me in the past year. I’ve started a business, began taking my personal development more seriously, and took my writing craft to an entirely different level. I began studying leadership. I began investing in coaching and mentorship. But most importantly—and, of course, as a result of all the above—I began studying inceptions, the genesis of great leaders.
I began paying more attention to where people come from than where they currently are. I have been seeking humble mentors and mentors who aren’t afraid to discuss their humble beginnings, hardships, and struggles. I have been seeking advice from people who’ve started at the bottom, which began with finding where these people are.
Today I realize that no true success comes without studying inceptions—our inception and the inception of those we admire. And by true success, I mean a sustainably rich, fulfilled, and abundant life—not a life rich in appearances. To me, success means constantly reaching and redefining one’s full potential and investing both in ourselves and other people. That’s why I look up to people such as Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, John C. Maxwell, and others. These people live purposeful lives, and through their work, they lead people to live purposeful lives, too. They are recognized and compensated proportionally to the impact they have on their audience.
This is the life I want.
I sometimes ponder whether anyone can become a legend like the people I’ve mentioned above. I sometimes consider whether there is more “nurture” than “nature” in the equation. This question has no precise answer that I know of. However, when I look at the inceptions of these people, I realize there is a possibility. Of course, one must be gifted to reach the levels of influence of Tony Robbins or Simon Sinek, but we don’t know how gifted we are until we’ve tried our best. We don’t know our true potential until we push ourselves to our very limits.
I’ve always had a sense that I was gifted for writing, but it wasn’t until I started helping others with writing that my purpose became clear. It wasn’t until then that I realized how gifted I was and what kind of impact I could have on other people. We sometimes learn more by teaching than by learning, and there’s no greatest endeavour than helping other people improve themselves and find the value inside of them.
Breaking Free from the Limiting Belief
Today it’s clear to me I’ve been unconsciously prisoner of my own mind. Unconscious beliefs have conditioned me that the highest heights are reserved for “other people.” But when I compare where I come from and where “other people” come from, I see no difference. Perhaps I even a head start.
There is, in essence, no difference between us and those we admire than the time we haven’t yet put into mastering our craft and in being someone of value. The inception of “other people” is also our own, and nothing except our decision to commit to a process can get in the way of getting where we are. In December of last year, I woke up to a strange realization: I’d finally understood that I could be whoever I want—that I could be a Tony Robbins or a Simon Sinek if I wanted to.
There is no need for me to aim that high, but I believe that the higher we aim, the further we get—and the further we get when we are on a mission, the bigger our impact on other people.
What happened during this past year that put me on the right track? Well, I now had a plan, a process, and a real vision. In April of last year, I met mentors who helped me build my business. To help me build my business, they had to help me build my identity and my vision.
In the end, what was supposed to be business coaching ended up being brain rewiring—the good kind. When I started, I couldn’t think a month ahead. Within a few short months, I was then able to think quarterly. And within a year, I was able to think years ahead. I now knew why I do what I do, and I got clear on the legacy I want to leave behind. It finally clicked.
The first months in business were a stressful roller coaster. I committed to a process through thick and thin and stuck to what I was told were the fundamentals. I worked on myself first—on my identity. When I ran into problems, I looked inward, not outward. The result was astonishing. Within about seven months, I changed into a brand new human, someone who believed his desired level of success is inevitable. That didn’t change the fact that, unconsciously, there’s still a part of me which holds on to this belief that the highest heights are reserved for “other people.” But that unconscious belief has been brought to light, and it is dying a slow death.
For now, I’ll keep assaulting this belief until it’s completely gone.