The Guilt Trap: Overcoming Limiting Beliefs that Hold You Back
What are the limiting beliefs silently sabotaging your success?
Limiting beliefs are invisible restraints that can quietly undermine our confidence, stifle our progress, and keep us confined within self-imposed boundaries. They can manifest in various forms, such as guilt for leaving a job, tying our self-worth to our income or defining ourselves solely by our job titles. All of these can close us off from exploring new paths and opportunities for personal and professional growth.
The journey to overcome these limiting beliefs is not an easy one, but it is essential if we want to unleash our true potential. It requires introspection, self-awareness, and the willingness to challenge our long-held beliefs. By recognizing the impact of these beliefs and learning to replace them with empowering ones, we can break free from the guilt trap and embrace a life filled with possibilities.
In the weeks after I quit my first corporate job, I experienced feelings I didn’t know I had in me. I discovered deeply held limiting beliefs that only became noticeable after I left the security of a stable corporate job. I had no way to prepare for these because I didn’t even know I had them in me. Nevertheless, I had to figure out a way to process and overcome them.
Overcoming Limiting Belief No.1: Feeling Guilty About Leaving a Job
Feelings of guilt always found me when I made any decision to quit. At times, I felt guilty about leaving good roles that I enjoyed. I was fortunate to work for great people and make a lot of dear friends. I thought, How dare I leave such a great situation when some people hate their jobs? Shouldn’t I be grateful to have such a good job and be content?
I felt guilt for all the hard work my parents had contributed to make it possible for me to get the university degree neither of them had. They worked hard to raise my sister and me. My father at times worked as many as three jobs at once. For many years, my mother worked twelve-hour days, which didn’t include the two hours spent on buses commuting to and from work. After all their hard work, there I was actually thinking about throwing it all away by quitting.
The guilt sometimes drove me to look for jobs similar to the one I had left. I wasted countless hours looking through job postings online and applying, hoping to undo my decision so I could ease the discomfort of my guilt.
However, even if I had found a new job right away, it would not have solved the real problem. At the core of that guilt was a limiting belief that if someone did something for me or gave me something, I owed them to fully make the most of it even if it was not aligned with my values, passion, or purpose. That belief was grounded in good intentions. However, it was limiting because it confined me to commitments that may not have always been aligned with my interests. Overcoming this limiting belief became a turning point in my journey.
Feeling So Guilty I Couldn’t Leave a Job
The first time I discovered this was after I agreed to help my dearest mentor launch a new business. We were a team of two; I was his only hire at the time. He invested in me, even when his new business did not yet earn revenue. Given how much support he had given me, I was absolutely happy for the opportunity to return the favor. However, after several months on the job, it had become clear to me I was not happy. The problem was that my limiting belief and accompanying guilt made it nearly impossible for me to leave the role. Then one day, I gathered the courage to speak with him and tell him how I felt about the role. His response surprised me.
Toward the end, he said, “Roger, I just want you to be happy, and if this role isn’t doing that for you, let’s start phasing you out of it. You have to do what’s right for you, and you leaving doesn’t hurt me. It actually makes me happy to know I can do something to help you get back on your path.”
For many years, I operated under the limiting belief that I owed everyone something if they helped me out. He wanted to help me and that was it. He didn’t need or want anything in return that wasn’t in alignment with my desired path.
Be mindful of your feelings of guilt and take the time to dig deep to discover if any underlying limiting beliefs might be fueling it.
Overcoming Limiting Belief No. 2: No Income Means I Have No Value
When you quit your job, you also quit your salary. My problem was that I tied my value and self-worth to my salary. That meant I often tossed out a great deal of my self-worth with any job I quit. When my first direct deposit failed to enter my bank account, the financial consequences of my decision became clear. The first thought that crossed my mind was, “I’m officially a loser.”
Even though I had a financial runway, the fact I did not earn a monthly salary still made me feel like I was a failure. I could not help but compare myself to friends who still had their nice salaries, enjoyed expensive vacations, and drove nice cars. These feelings did not take long to surface. Sometimes they appeared within a month of quitting. I was hard-wired to believe salary determined self-worth, and the moment my salary was cut off, the disempowering feelings rushed in to fill the gap every chance they got.
Getting Distracted Along the Way
This limiting belief also drove me to look for jobs and to become consumed with an obsession to make money. Instead of focusing on the people I wanted to serve, I focused on ways to make more money. Even though the two objectives seem to align, when you focus on money instead of customers, it tends to lead to a higher likelihood of business failure.
I eventually grounded myself in my experiments and the fulfillment I derived from working with math students. Doing that work helped me overcome this limiting belief by replacing it with a more empowering one. I began to believe I could offer value in other ways than financial and make an impact on people’s lives.
Working with students and watching their significant growth helped me discover, learn, and believe I am worth so much more than the money I earn. The truth was, I could never put a price on the breakthroughs my students experienced. That fulfillment was priceless.
Your worth is not tied to your ability to earn income. In fact, it has nothing to do with your value to the world.
Overcoming Limiting Belief No. 3: No Employment Equals Unemployment
A closely related limiting belief was that if I was not formally employed that meant I was unemployed. In my experience, unemployment carried a stigma with it. At the time I linked unemployment with several negative associations. If it wasn’t a personal stigma, it was something that led to negative financial consequences.
In my first twenty-five years of life, I didn’t know anyone to be comfortable in between jobs. I had never known anyone to take a sabbatical. Living paycheck to paycheck seemed to me the most normal thing in the world. If you were without a job, you were unemployed, and that meant you were in a bad financial spot because you had no next paycheck to pay the bills.
The problem with this belief is it shuts down so many opportunities for personal and career reinvention since it assumes you must always be formally employed with steady pay. It didn’t leave room for holding a couple of part-time jobs or working every other month or quarter. It also eliminated unpredictable income streams that might come from testing out your own business ideas.
So even with a financial runway lined up, this limiting belief made it hard to be at peace with my decision and focus fully on my reinvention goals. Instead, I kept one eye on the goal and the other looking for new jobs or money-making opportunities. Ultimately, this distracts you from your journey to reinvention.
Where Focus Goes, Energy Flows
Working with my coach, I learned to shift my focus from what I don’t have (i.e., traditional employment) to what I do have (i.e., amazing people who care about me) and the exciting opportunities I’m building (i.e., a new business).
Shifting your focus is an effective way to move away from limiting beliefs and then replace them all together.
The journey to reinvention will have its bumps and potholes on the road, but that is to be expected. Working with others and doing the deep work with yourself, you too will be able to slowly overcome your limiting beliefs and replace them with empowering ones. Each person will have their own set of unique limiting beliefs that come from their own lived experiences and upbringing. Keep an open mind to these as they surface, and be mindful that they may be dressed up in other feelings.
Your steps on the journey won’t all be forward, but if you keep going, you’ll make up any lost ground down the road.
If there’s anything I can do to support your journey to reinvention, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can DM me on Linkedin or Instagram. You can also check out my coaching page if you’d like to discuss Reinvention Coaching.
If you enjoy learning from interviews with people who are walking their own journey to reinvention, check out The School of Reinvention Podcast.