How To Overcome The Limiting Beliefs You Have About Your Career Change

Person standing in a gloomy forest

Image: Thom Holmes

The beliefs you hold about what's possible for your shift can leave you in paralysis. But what if the things you tell yourself are actually just one idea, in many disguises? Natasha shares a different perspective on your limiting beliefs and how to overcome them.

Limiting beliefs: thoughts, ideas, and assumptions that limit our progress.

For most of us, they're not an issue until we take on a challenge in our lives that requires significant bravery and a step into the unknown: things like marriage, moving to a new country, or a career change. At this point, they raise their demonic little heads everywhere you look.

The bulk of the work that goes into changing career actually goes into changing our beliefs about what's possible. On the outside, it looks like we're looking for a new career direction. In actual fact, we're entering into battle with our own conceptions of reality.

And, as with any combat, it's vital to be able to see your opponent clearly.

So let me take a minute to lay out a little theory of mine about what limiting beliefs look like, and what they actually are (and I’d love to hear what you think – let me know in the comments).

There are three categories of limiting beliefs

  • Beliefs about yourself (I’m too introverted / I’m not smart enough / I never succeed)
  • Beliefs about other people (Nobody’s interested in X / People aren’t naturally supportive / They’ll think I’m crazy)
  • Beliefs about the way the world is organised (You can’t get a job in design if you don’t have connections / You have to have at least a year’s worth of savings to make a leap / The ‘system’ is set up to make it hard)

Try it for yourself. Pick a handful of your own limiting beliefs, and see if there are any that don’t slot into those categories.

But actually, when you dig down into those categories, there is only one state of being that limits our forward movement – and this is the state of being that generates all limiting beliefs.

So what is it?

What do all of these limiting beliefs that are holding you back actually boil down to?

What are you really saying when you tell yourself that it isn’t possible, or you’re not smart enough, or people are going to get in your way?

What you’re really saying, in an enormous host of different languages and disguises, is this:

‘I’m scared’.

I’m scared of what will happen if I try. I’m scared of what other people will say or do. I’m scared of failing. I’m scared by the fact that I don’t know what to do next. I’m scared of proving that I’m not good enough.

When I made my own career change I was firmly of the belief that as a woman in her mid-twenties, I was too young to be a respectable coach – or even to be a respectable writer in the field of personal development. This belief wasn't grounded in real experience (in fact, I was trained in coaching adults from the age of 12, so my belief was actually contrary to my previous experience of the world). It was entirely grounded in fear, and it held me back for years from even exploring the possibility of doing what I do now.

I spent hours looking at coach training courses, reading the blogs and websites of other coaches and writers, and even coaching people inside my head. But I took no action on it for a long, long time. Looking back now, I can translate that belief into two clear statements of fear:

"I'm scared of not being taken seriously" and "I'm scared I'll have to wait for years to do what I truly love".

Limiting beliefs, whatever form they may take, are all fear in disguise. Many of them are master illusionists, too, incorporating cheeky little elements of truth into their camouflage so that they can slip by unchallenged. They’ll grab an unpleasant experience from your childhood in one hand, and a news story from the papers three weeks ago in the other, and weave them expertly into the fabric of their cloak. So when you spot them moving through your mind, you see not fear, but fact.

And you relate to them not simply as fear, but as complex, meaningful truths about yourself and the world that need to be overcome.

Once you recognise that most of the things that you think are in the way of your career change are nothing more than fear, you can get down to the dirty business of kicking its ass.

So how do you do that?

Identify what you’re scared of

The first step to ridding a limiting belief of its power is to rip off its disguise and look it in the eye.

Get behind the original statement and look at where the fear comes in. Translate it from a statement about how things are into a statement about how you feel.

“I’m not outgoing enough” becomes “I’m scared I won’t be noticed.”

“Nobody working in Renewables would be interested in helping me” becomes “I’m scared of being turned down.”

To get a job in Interior Design, you have to have twelve degrees becomes “I’m scared it’s too late for me to have what I want.”

When you translate your limiting belief about the world into a personal state of being, you remove all of its external validation. It's no longer a situation outside of your control. It's no longer something that's true 'out there', where you can't touch it. It's internal. And anything that's within you is also within your power to change.

Face your fear

This step can take two different forms: the Inside Job and the Outside Job. You’ll know which approach is right for you (and if you’re feeling greedy, you can even do both).

The Inside Job is a mental practice. It’s the regular generation of curiosity about who you are and how your mind works. It’s about noticing how you’re feeling, holding it up to have a look at, and recognising that it’s all happening in your head.

Wow, here I go again - I’m scared of what that person’s going to think of me. That’s interesting.”

The Inside Job does not require anything more than a thought process like the one above. Over time, the process of active curiosity about the rubbish your mind comes up with perpetuates an incredibly liberating level of objectivity about what your limiting beliefs are, and of how you can then choose to behave when you notice them coming into play. You'll begin to catch yourself predicting their arrival, and changing course to knock them out of the park before they can trip you up.

The Outside Job is more of an active process. Once you’ve identified what you’re afraid of, put yourself in a situation that forces you to challenge your fear.

Do this by connecting with people, trying out an idea in a small, low-risk way, or simply becoming better informed about the situation you’re afraid of. Information is hugely powerful in any attempt to alter limiting beliefs. Seek out anything and anyone that could offer you a new way of perceiving the world, and if it requires you to close your eyes and take a little leap of faith, take it.

Start with small actions that gently put some pressure on your comfort zone, and then from there build up to bigger, bolder moves.

What do you think of the idea that all limiting beliefs are 'I'm scared' in disguise? Let us know in the Comments below!

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.