The #1 Thing Holding You Back

What is the number one thing that holds you back from being the best leader you can be? I believe the answer is quite simple. It’s you…yes, you are the one holding yourself back. More than the “people who make your life difficult.” Even more than the “cards you’ve been dealt.” It’s the beliefs you hold about how the world works, who you are, how worthy you are, and what you can or cannot do.


Where do our beliefs come from?


A belief is a thought that has been repeated consistently, over time. It becomes hardwired into the brain. Many of our beliefs were programmed at a young age based on what we learned from our parents, teachers and other influencers in our lives. Other beliefs may have been hardwired into our brains by a particularly emotional or traumatic experience.


Our beliefs create our reality


Beliefs function like our brain’s operating system. They govern how we perceive the world. How we perceive the world influences the decisions we make, the actions we take, and the people we choose to interact with. Simply put, your beliefs run your life.


The interesting thing about our beliefs is that we mistake them as the truth. More often than not, we may not even realize we hold a belief. To us, our beliefs represent our reality. They represent the way the world works. But there is no single reality. Instead, each of us lives a unique, personally-created reality.


Because we equate our beliefs to reality, we constantly perpetuate and reinforce them. Most of the time, we aren’t even aware we’re doing it. The world around us is filtered through the lens of our beliefs. So we only see what the lens allows – evidence that supports those beliefs. We take action based on those beliefs…and we create self-fulfilling prophecies. We even pass our beliefs on to others, just like the people who passed them to us.


An example: The workaholic


Let’s use an example (from my own belief archives) to illustrate the concept that our beliefs create our reality.


The belief: I cannot achieve the level of career success I desire without significant personal sacrifice and stress.


The impact of this belief: When faced with a professional challenge, I automatically assume that the answer requires personal sacrifice. I feel distressed, just thinking about that. I believe the only answer is to throw more hours at the problem. I sacrifice personal time on nights and weekends, even giving up a scheduled vacation. Since I haven’t allowed myself time for self-care or the things I enjoy, my stress builds. The story I tell myself is, “This is the way it is. I must do this to achieve the success I want.”


Perpetuating the belief: I repeat this story to everyone else in my life, “This is just the way it is. My career is demanding. It limits my personal life.” When I look to role models, I look for people who are like me. So I find people who share my beliefs. People who did what I think I need to do to get where I want to go. I expect my colleagues to exhibit the same behavior as me. And if they don’t, instead of looking for their successes and learning from them, I only see their shortcomings.


“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs.” – James Lane Allen


Shining the light on your beliefs


Our beliefs are the stories that constantly run in the background of our lives. Most of the time, we don’t even notice they exist. We think that the story is who we really are…how the world really is.

Lots of these stories are wonderful! They serve us very well. But others hold us back.

Your power lies in the ability to notice these beliefs. When you shine the light of awareness on your beliefs, you realize they exist. You see them for what they are – a story…not reality.


Evaluating your beliefs


When you step back and observe your belief, you separate yourself from it. You can evaluate it. You don’t need to judge it as right or wrong. You can simply decide how well it serves you. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Does this belief help me or hurt me?
  • Does this belief empower me or hold me back?
  • Does this belief expand my possibilities or limit them?


When you become conscious of a belief, you can recognize it for the story that it is. And if you don’t like that story…you can tell a new one.


About the Author

Sarah Elliott, CPA, ACC believes the future of the accounting profession depends on our capacity to love. As the co-founder and principal of Intend2Lead, a leadership development firm, she coaches CPAs to access the possibility dimension: the place where fear is no longer the enemy.