What limiting beliefs are, how they hurt your career, and how to overcome them

Have you ever thought anything like this about your career?

“I need to switch companies to get a raise.”

“I can’t negotiate for more money because then my boss will think I’m not a team player.”

“I don’t have the right background to get my dream job.”

You may agree with some of these statements and you might think some of them are not true at all. Your reaction to them depends on your worldview and your limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs are mistaken assumptions that act as barriers to achieving what we want.

All of the statements above are examples of common limiting beliefs employee have about their careers. Limiting beliefs typically focus on how we aren’t good enough to achieve something we want. In the context of our careers, that usually means that we aren’t smart enough, aren’t hard working enough, can’t share success with our coworkers, don’t have the right background, or aren’t willing to sacrifice something to reach a goal we desire.

Some other common career limiting beliefs are:

“My boss doesn’t want to help me with my career development.”

“Asking for help is a sign that I’m not good at my job.”

“The only jobs that pay $100k+ require working 80 hours a week.”

“If my coworker succeeds and she gets a raise, then I can’t get a raise too.”

Limiting beliefs hurt your careers in many ways.

One big way is if you assume everyone else around you has the same beliefs. For example, if “my boss doesn’t want to help me with my career development” is one of your limiting beliefs and you assume that your boss has the same belief, you might never get as much guidance from your boss as she wants to give. Many managers and bosses believe that it’s part of their jobs to help their employees improve in their careers and they actually enjoy seeing their employees grow and become more successful. Sort of like a high school teacher who love to hear what her former students have accomplished at their 25 year reunion.

So while you assume that your boss doesn’t want to help you, your boss is actually feeling like you don’t care about your career because you try not to bother her about it.

Another way your limiting beliefs can hurt you is by not taking action when you should. Again, if you think your boss doesn’t want to help you, you won’t actually ask for help. That means that when you stagnate and would like to get your boss’s opinion about what to learn next, you won’t ask. As a result, you never improve as quickly as you can and your career plateaus.

Now that we know what limiting beliefs are and why they hurt our careers, how do we challenge our limiting beliefs and create healthier beliefs?

The first step is to understand what your limiting beliefs are. It’s best to sort them out one at a time as they come up in your career.

Focus on what you want to achieve and what doubts you have about why you can’t achieve that goal. For example, if you want to negotiate a raise but you get an uneasy feeling that it’s not a good idea, you might want dig deeper to see if you have limiting beliefs around negotiating. After reflecting, you realize that you feel uncomfortable asking for a raise because you think your boss won’t see you as working for the good of the company anymore and that you’re not a team player.

There is a limiting belief there: If you ask for money, then your boss will think you’re selfish.

Going through this process is easier if you have a high emotional intelligence. People with high emotional intelligence can identify their feelings better which helps them identify the emotions arising from limiting beliefs.

Previously, we talked about how to develop your emotional intelligence and why it’s an important leadership skill for climbing up the ladder. See the link here: The importance of emotional intelligence in your career and how to develop it.

As another tip for identifying your limiting beliefs, they are usually cause-effect statements: “If I do one thing, then something bad will result from it.” Try to identify that thinking to find your limiting beliefs.

Once you identify a limiting belief, there are two helpful exercises to overcome those harmful beliefs.

The first one is the what if I was perfect exercise.

Think about yourself as a perfect person. Going back to our example about negotiating a raise and then your boss thinking you’re not a team player. If you were a perfect person, how would you handle this situation?

First off, you’d do such great work that your boss would be happy to give you a raise. You’d also know how to perfectly explain to your boss why you deserve a raise, such as doing more work than you were before, senior leaders noticing your great work, and presenting salary data that shows your new responsibilities warrant higher compensation. Finally, you’ll tell your boss that you love being a part of the team and want to take on more responsibility in the future to help the team even more. You’d also imagine your boss reacting positively to that negotiation.

While that won’t remove your fears, you’ll start to believe that maybe your limiting belief isn’t 100% true.

Another method to overcome your limiting beliefs is to find counterexamples.

In today’s information age, it’s easy to find counter examples by googling for “people who negotiated a raise” and reading their stories. You’ll find a number of examples about people who negotiated a raise and their boss was glad to help.

You can do the same for whatever other limiting beliefs you have. Just look for counterexamples online. If you need other examples, you can also ask friends and mentors what happened when they tried to do what you are trying to achieve.

Even after going through these two exercises, it will likely take more time to remove your limiting belief from your worldview. You will need to find counterexamples and build confidence that the world might be different from what you think right now. That happens over time.

While it’s not easy to overcome a limiting belief, it’s an important part of climbing up the ladder. If you let your fears stop you, you may look back at your career when you retire and wish you had done more to reach your goals.

Whether it’s trying for a promotion, getting a raise, or reaching the C-Suite, identify your limiting beliefs and learn to overcome them.

6 thoughts on “What limiting beliefs are, how they hurt your career, and how to overcome them

  1. Dave

    Over my career, I have found that it is better to work with the spirit of service. Focus on what you can offer your employer instead of what they can offer you. Ask for extra assignments or if you can join different company boards instead of a raise. Do that and the promotions will follow in time.

  2. WealthyDoc

    We can be our own worst enemy. To a large extent, we create our own reality – for better or worse!
    My capacity is much bigger than I once realized. I doubt I’m currently living up to my full potential either. It is hard to not get complacent. Especially after reaching FI – at least for me it has been.

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