Before I go any further, let me stress that I’m not subscribing to some fluffy bunny theory of positive thinking here. It’s just plain common sense. Nothing more than simple logic. Expansive stories open doors. Limiting stories close them.
Let’s say you have 10 opportunities to take a dream step in your career and, because you see the world through the lens of your positive stories, you decide to give each of them a shot. And let’s say, just for the sake of this example, that 80 percent of the steps you take fail. Unpleasant as the unsuccessful steps might be, that still leaves two steps that succeeded.
Flip that on its head, and look at it through the lens of a limiting story. Limiting stories have one primary goal in mind, funneling you down the path to saying no. And saying no automatically turns possibilities into impossibilities. Like the great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”
So let’s take a look at two of the most common stories people tell that limit them in their careers.
Most people have a million good reasons why they can’t take certain steps to break out of a mundane rut and create the life they really want. They look at a goal that inspires them—a career change perhaps, or starting a business—and say, “I can’t because ____.”
The reasons they give might feel like the absolute, irrefutable truth. But a closer examination often reveals that “I can’t” is actually, “I won’t.”
I won’t step out of my comfort zone. I won’t take the risk. I won’t make the sacrifice or hard choices it would require to do this. I won’t step beyond immediate gratification to invest in the long-term future I want. I won’t do the hard work that change would require. I won’t look past my knee-jerk assessment of whether this is possible and explore ways to make it happen.
I’m not suggesting that each of these, or even any of these, apply to you when you say, “I can’t.” But next time you catch yourself telling an “I can’t story,” stop and ask yourself, “Is that true? Might it be possible? Has anyone else done it? If I had to do it, how could I?” You might just be surprised what you discover.
That’s not realistic.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes an idea really and truly isn’t realistic. But over a decade of helping people create careers they love, I have found that often those seemingly good reasons fall apart on further examination.
“That’s not realistic” becomes, “That’s not realistic right now (but it would be three years from now if I start taking steps).” Or it might wind up as, “That’s not realistic without help (and here’s where I could start asking for that help).” Or “That’s not realistic without partnering with someone to make it happen (and these are the steps I’m going to start taking to find them).” It might even become a good old-fashioned, “That’s not realistic unless I really bust my butt and work hard.”
Next time you catch yourself saying something isn’t realistic, take a look at the reasons why. For each of those reasons, ask first whether it’s actually true. You’d be amazed how often we make our decisions based on “solid truths” that end up being little more than opinions and conjecture.
If it is true, follow that question up with, “How could I solve that problem? What would help change that?” Challenge yourself to find ways to move past the obstacles you see.
These are just two of the most common limiting stories. There are countless others, but they all have the basic effect of putting the brakes on your career and preventing you from reaching your true potential.
Let me be clear: If you currently find yourself facing challenging circumstances, I’m not pointing the finger at you and saying, “If only you would think more expansively all your troubles would be gone.” If you’re in a challenging place, a more positive story may or may not offer a quick way out. But in the long run, given the choice between the possibilities created by a habitually expansive story and the possibilities created by a habitually restrictive story, I know which ones I would take, every time.
Wherever you are in your career, whether you are flying high or mired in mud, catching your limiting stories and consistently looking for the expansive story alternative opens doors to opportunities and potential you would never otherwise have discovered.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.