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Questioning My “I Can’ts”, “I Shouldn’ts”, and “I Won’ts”

This week kicked my butt.  It started about a month ago, when I learned about a fellowship for nonprofit leaders through the Chicago Community Trust.   The fellowship offers a generous grant for you to architect a plan for self-directed professional development— a mix of conferences, executive education, and coaching designed to benefit the non-profit organization you work for, as well as yourself.  As a conference and learning junkie, this was a heavenly find.  Initially, I approached the application process with zest and zeal- I loved the idea of putting myself out there and putting my goals on paper.  But as I delved deeper into the application process, I realized that the questions were really pushing my thinking.  Questions like, “What’s your greatest career accomplishment?” and “What’s your ultimate professional goal?” forced me to think big picture and reflect in a way that rattled my confidence.

As the days passed, I found that my initial excitement was being replaced with dread, frustration, and doubt.  And as I spent more and more time articulating my responses, the self-limiting doubts and the stories in my head got louder and they got meaner:
“You work too slow- you’re never going to finish.”
“You’ll never stack up against the competition.”
“Your ultimate professional goal isn’t bold or impressive enough.”

I found that what initially was a source of so much excitement for me was becoming a burden.  My sense is that I’m not alone in this shift from anticipation and eagerness to dread and self-doubt.  Since the mission of Chicago Ideas Week is to inspire the conversion of ideas into action, I thought I would share a tool that I used to move from stuck to re-activated.

The first thing I did was I took a cold hard look at the stressful stories I was telling myself and I questioned them.  The first one was, “You work too slow- you’re never going to finish.”  I took a deep breath and asked myself, “Is this true?”  Nope.  How did I know?  Well, I finished college and then grad school.  I’ve biked the entire Pacific Coast.  And I’ve run/walked a full marathon.  The truth is that I go at the pace that’s just right for me.

Second limiting belief: “You’ll never stack up against the competition.”   I took another deep breath and asked myself, “Is this true?” Nope again.  How did I know?  Well, I’ve landed jobs that I love.  I’ve gotten strong results for the organizations that I work for.  And I’ve been awarded competitive grants before.  The truth is that there was a place for me in this competition.

Final stressful belief: “Your ultimate professional goal isn’t bold or impressive enough.”   A final deep breath led me to the question, “Is this true?”  Once again, it wasn’t.  How did I know?  Because my goal was authentic, heartfelt, and rooted in my values.

We all have self-limiting beliefs that are dictated by the stories in our heads and what we make those stories mean.  When you find yourself triggered by a task or goal that unleashes those stories, seize that moment.  You’ve been given a gift- an opportunity to redefine the negative stories and self-limiting beliefs in your head, question them, and replace them with truer, more loving thoughts.  Next time you decided to step into the arena and live “all in”,  keep an eye out for those negative scripts- they’ll inevitably surface, as they always do when we step outside of our comfort zone.  When they come, welcome them in- as they’re giving you an opportunity to redefine yourself, your self-image, and what you view as possible for your world.

Note: This tool is inspired by The Work of Byron Katie and her flagship book, Loving What Is.  For more information on Byron Katie, visit http://www.thework.com.