When I was a kid I had constant validation that I would do well when I grew up. Noone told me how old a grown-up was supposed to be, but ever since I can remember, all the grown-ups had moved out on their own. So once you have gotten your own place, you were an adult! I also knew that while there was a lot of unknown between now and then; it would all work out very well in the end.
These affirmations were never things I said to myself, but things I took in from my family, friends and co-workers. My parents moved to the United States from India for the specific purpose of creating a better life for their kids. They were both very high achievers. They both advanced degrees (e.g. my Mom graduated from Medical School when she was only 21). They both worked very hard and raised their kids to hold very standards for themselves. They did lead by example.
In my household (including my immediate, but also my extended family), it was assumed that you would be at the top of your class (my brother and sister were both valedictorians of their high school class, I was close). Being enrolled in gifted student classes from the age of 10 years old just reinforced this belief. True or not, it became reality.
It was assumed that you would behave. I only got detention once in High School, and it was something I didn’t even do (really!). It was quite the talk of the school at the time because everyone realized I didn’t deserve it. I thought it was quite funny.
It was assumed that you would no only go to college, but go to a good college.
It was assumed that you would not just get a job, but a good job. My brother was the one type-cast as destined to win the Nobel Prize, or at least become a leading scientist and University Professor. He is well on his way. My sister was always interested in medicine and it was a no-brainer that she would get into a great medical school and start a practice. She is starting to set up her own practice. I was a little harder to pin down, but since I was 10-11 years old, this bug was planted in me that I would be a financier. I was going to be the “business-guy.”
These labels, like it or not, really did create a signficiant amount of momentum in my life. Throughout elementary, Jr and Sr High School, teachers were always reinforcing how “well I did” in class and how I was going to “be president someday” (the last one was from one of my greatest mentors, my swim coach). Getting the “most likely to succeed” award at our Senior Class Banquet was another pat on the back. It is funny, but I never realized at the time how powerful these affirmations were in my life.
I assumed success. There was no question. There was no arguing. I wouldn’t even stress about major life changes like getting into college or getting a job because I always assumed that things would work out very well in the end.
Even when I was struggling in a school class, it was a never a question of if I would fail or pass, but whether I would get a 100, 98 or 95 on the final exam. My reference points were incredibly high because that was what was expected. Nothing else could even be a remote possibility!
Some of my friends thought I was under too much pressure to succedd when I was a kid. I actually found the opposite to be true. I got consistent validation that I would do well, but the means for how I did it were up to me. This lifted a huge burden from my shoulders. I was rarely stressed during school. I never pulled an all nighter. I ended up doing ok.
The same held true for my daily values and other non-academic beliefs. It was an assumption that I would always take care of and respect my family, no matter what, especially respecting elders. This was burned into my brain from my earliest days. I have vivid memories when I was 8-10 years old at dinner parties with my family. While other kids were running around, I would be asking the adults if I could get them another drink or some more food! It was the role I adopted for myself. I gave myself this label of someone who repects family and takes care of others first.
In terms of effort, I also had been given this label of being a really hard worker. When it came to sports, I was never that great, slightly above average at best, but I was consistently validated by my coaches as the hardest working person on the team. True or not, this has shaped my work ethic throughout the rest of my life.
Throughout my childhood, I assumed success.
Label yourself cautiously
I am talking about validation, the beliefs they inspire and the values they create because it are these values that ultimately shape our destiny. It is also true, that for many of us with positive childhood experiences (i.e. with a close-knit family and circle of friends) this type of positive validation can be very hard to recreate as we move out on our own.
Without a network of peers at school and close family that is constantly (I mean daily) validating your worth and abilities, it is easy to begin creating new beliefs (i.e. labels for yourself) that will eventually end up drastically changing your potential to succeed.
Instead of thinking that one day you could be President of the United States, you begin doubt your ability to be President of the local Toastmasters group, or President of the local Running Club!
Instead of thinking that you are desinted for a financially rewarding career, you sucker yourself into beliefing that actually have to work until you turn 50 before you retire (forget about 65!).
Instead of always respecting your elders, you begin to distrust people out of fear that they are taking advantage of you.
Instead of thinking how fun it is to jump off a high-dive, you think about how much it will hurt if you belly flop.
We begin to peel off the “you can do anything” label and paste on ugly and boring “you can’t do that” labels. We talk ourselves out of doing great things because we don’t get the external validation we received when we were young.
This is an incredibly dangerous and slippery slope. It is all the more important a reason for people to be aware of these limiting beliefs and do what ever it take to get rid of them. I’ve found that surrounding yourself with successful and positive friends and peers is a great way to make sure that you don’t erode your own true sense of self. This can actually enhance your own confidence in your abilities.
I’ve also found that sometimes the people that helped you get to a certain point in your life are not the same people that can help you reach the next stage of your journey. If you find that you don’t have a positive support from your friends (or even family), Don’t be afraid to expand your inner-circle to include people who are on your wavelength.
So next time you catch yourself saying you can or can’t do something; don’t just agree, ask yourself why.
You’d be amazed at what you discover. If you thought you could be president when you were a kid….why can’t you double your income in the next year or take that trip around the world? Why can’t you get that job as a record producer? Why can’t you start teaching yoga? What has changed in your mindset to hold you back? Just the process of asking these focused questions will help to resolve many of our self-imposed limitations. Sometimes all we need is a little shake to get us back on a positive track.
Try it out during your next commute to/from work or school and let me know how it goes!