There are just some moments that stick with you. Events that etch themselves into your brain and mark a shift in the way you view yourself, other people, or even the world. Their effects can be felt months, years, or even decades later, influencing your thoughts, feelings, and habits. Some of these moments plant seeds of limiting beliefs that grow over time unless we break the cycle.
This is the story of one such moment in my life. I’m sharing it with you because this experience is one that many of us have had. The details may differ, but I have a hunch you’ll be able to relate.
I sat poised and ready to nail my first big post-college job interview. It was 2007, and the economy was getting tough. The mountain of students loans I’d used to fund my education (some $60K) loomed over me, as did the rent on my two-bedroom apartment. Private university tuition hadn’t been cheap, and despite the scholarships and on-campus jobs, I had a hefty balance to repay.
I was prepared for this meeting. I already had a “foot in the door” so to speak, since I already worked for this bank as a teller. Still, I knew competition for this position was stiff. There were many applicants, one of whom was my boyfriend (now husband), and there were only two job openings.
Things were going well until the interviewer—a woman in her late 20’s—asked the question they all ask.
“Tell me about a time when you failed at something,” she said.
I was ready for this. I knew exactly what story to tell.
In college, I had tried to start a campus TV station. I had grand plans for news broadcasts, event coverage, and feature pieces. All I needed was equipment, video editing software, people to run cameras, people to be on-camera, space to record, and props.
So basically… everything.
I got to work. I advertised the opportunity, sharing my vision with anyone who’d entertain the idea, on our campus intranet. I hosted info sessions, laying out my plans in front of dozens of interested students. I smiled as I offered everyone who attended a heavily frosted sugar cookie with sprinkles on top. I did my best to make.it.happen!
Spoiler: It did not happen.
Turns out that a lot of students liked the idea of being on TV, but very few were willing—or able—to work behind the camera or toil behind the scenes.
After months of pitching the concept and trying to put the pieces together (while also taking a full load of classes and working part-time), I threw in the towel.
When I finished recounting the story, the interviewer asked me a question I’ll never forget.
“What made you think you could succeed at that? Why did you think you were the one to take on this project?”
I realize, as I type this out, that this woman sounds like a real B.
She wasn’t trying to be rude. She was genuinely curious what a 20-year-old with no video editing or serious journalism experience could have possibly been thinking when she put herself in charge of starting a TV station from scratch.
And I admit that up until that point, it had never occurred to me that I might not have been the person for the job. That I hadn’t been ready or capable. That it hadn’t been my place to try.
“Well,” I began awkwardly. “No one else was doing it.”
This is why we hold back
This, my friends, is how limiting beliefs get installed in our brains. This is how we come to believe that we have limits. That we need permission to do big things.
This message nestled itself in my brain and stayed years past its welcome, keeping me stuck in habit loops that kept me small. I began to question my every move and worry that I might make the wrong ones. I began to fear failure to such an extreme degree that I hid my gifts just to avoid the possibility of falling on my face.
Now in my thirties, I notice women around me taking bigger and bigger risks. I see friends leading companies, running their own businesses, speaking on stages, and sharing their stories. It has encouraged me to shed the weight of uncertainty that had been holding me down, too. In lifting themselves up, they have lifted me.
What I’ve learned is that this works both ways:
1 – When we look for evidence that it’s safe to chase our dreams, we’ll find it. We’ll see it in our colleagues, our friends, or even in brave strangers on the internet. Whatever we believe, our brains will look to prove with evidence. So if you believe that you’re capable and worthy of making shit happen, your brain will be happy to serve up some proof.
2 – When we lift other women up—whether by being an example of what’s possible, lending our support, or giving words of encouragement—we rise, too. I have been known to send random voice messages to women in my network just to let them know they’re doing a good job. I see you out there. You’re feeling the fear and doing the thing anyway. You’re a badass. Keep it up.
If you need permission to after your dream, consider it granted.
P. S. I got the job.