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Are You Holding Yourself Back from Doing What You Want?

One of my friends sent me a link to a short, 16-minute documentary titled Slomo. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. It’s about a doctor who walks away from his medical career to do what he loves. He had two things happen that drove him to do this: first, he started to have health issues, and second, he got a message from a 93-year old man to “do what you want to.”

Why don’t we do what we want with our lives?

On the one hand, it is a simple concept: do what you want to. Isn’t that what we all want to do anyway? And yet, it can be — and probably is — one of the most difficult things for us to do.

According to Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the number one regret most people state on their deathbed is: I wish I had had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Like Slomo, I walked away from a successful business strategy consulting career to do what I love, which is helping other people live courageous and authentic lives. I built a house in Guatemala and split my time between there and San Francisco. Since I’ve made these changes, I have had many people come up to me to talk about the changes I’ve made. They usually fall in one of two camps: the “I could never do that” camp and the “How did you do it?” camp.

One of the people who wanted to talk about this with me was one of my old bosses. He fell in the “How did you do it camp?” and was looking for advice on how he could make changes in his life. We talked for about an hour, and I shared with him my rationale for my life decisions: I did not want to look back on my life and regret not trying. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would look back on my life and regret not taking the chance. Even if I failed, at least I could console myself with the fact that I tried.

As we talked, he shared some of his dreams with me. He is a husband and father, with two adult children. I challenged and encouraged him to go after his dreams, but as we did, I noticed that he shifted into the “I could never do that” camp. He listed a whole bunch of reasons why he could not go after his dreams.

Our conversation was a replay of many other conversations I’ve had with other people on this. It seems like everyone wants to make changes to his or her life, but find reasons why they cannot.

Why is it so difficult for us to do what we want in life?

In all honesty, there is only one thing that is holding you back from doing what you want for your life: You. You may give it a name or a label, you may rationale your decisions beautifully, but when it comes down to it, you are the only thing that holds yourself back.

I’m not saying that the path of doing what you want with your life is going to be easy and a bed of roses. The odds are that you will find the same types of challenges and obstacles as you would if you didn’t do what you want with your life. But, the rewards will be greater.

How do we hold ourselves back?

We believe that our dream is impossible.

We come up with a long list of why we can’t do something because of whatever it is that we have going on in our lives. You may have children, or feel that you don’t have enough money, or you worry that the likelihood of you getting that job you dream of is slim…the list you can create is endless.

Whatever you believe becomes your reality. So if you believe that you can’t make a change to your life because you have children or because you don’t have enough money, then guess what? You don’t have enough money and you can’t make the change. Yes, you do need to think about these — and other — things and plan accordingly, but they are not reasons to say that something is impossible.

The old saying, “There are many ways to skin a cat,” applies to every aspect of our lives, but is especially true when we are trying to overcome a challenge in our lives. Let’s say that your dream is to live in Italy for a year while you immerse yourself in the culture and language, but you don’t have enough money to rent a villa for an entire year. Does that mean that your dream is impossible?


There are so many other options and solutions out there for you to consider. You could swap houses with someone in Italy. You could rent a room in a villa and live with an Italian family. You could work as an English tutor for someone’s children in exchange for room and board. There are many ways you could realize your dream, but first you have to believe that your dream is possible.

Another way that we tell ourselves that something isn’t possible is by how we perceive our abilities and ourselves. We may tell ourselves that we don’t have the skills or are not experienced enough. We compare ourselves to others and find ourselves coming up short. In doing so, we decide that we are not good enough to go after our dream. Or, even worse, we tell ourselves that we don’t deserve to do what we want and, ultimately, that we don’t deserve to be happy in our life.

Audrey Hepburn said it best: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, ‘I’m possible.’” Use this as your mantra to begin to see the possibilities in your life.

We are afraid of the unknown.

When we are looking to make a change or embark on something new, whether that something new is taking a painting class or deciding to quit our job and launch a new business, the uncertainty of the unknown can be a huge detriment to moving forward. It’s easy to talk yourself our of doing something by saying that you don’t know what is going to happen and that there’s no guarantee that it is going to work out.

The truth is, everything in life is uncertain and unknown. There are no guarantees. The only thing that is certain is that nothing stays the same. So even if you continue to do the exact same thing today that you did yesterday, there is no guarantee that you will get the same result. There is not guarantee that you will still be employed at the job you hate. There is no guarantee that the people you love will still be here. There is not guarantee that you will have good health, or that your health won’t deteriorate even more. There is no guarantee that there will be the perfect time to do what you want with your life.

We have this misguided belief that we can control things that are out of our control, but we cannot. So the question you need to answer is this: since you cannot control anything except for how you react to a situation, why not create the life that you want? Uncertainty and the unknown will exist whether you are living the life you want or the life that others expect you to live, so why not go with the one that makes your heart sing with joy?

Usually, when something brings up feelings of fear in my, I take it as a sign that whatever is causing me to feel fearful is exactly what I need to do. I use my fear as a barometer of where I need to focus my efforts for the greatest change and impact on my life.

We don’t know what we want.

It’s difficult to live the life we want when we can’t define it and don’t know the direction we want to go in!

Of all the things that can hold you back, I think this one is the most fun to figure out. You can spend time imagining, researching and exploring possibilities for your life.

There are two challenges, however, with this to keep in mind. The first is that you can get into an endless cycle of dreaming and imagining and never actually do anything. The second is that you may close yourself off to possibilities. It can be easy to fall into the “it’s impossible” mindset as you consider options for what you want for your life. One way to remain open is to simply list all the options you are discovering without any type of judgment or assessment. Once you feel as if you’ve gotten a full list, you can then go through and figure out which possibility appeals to you the most.

Once you have clarity on what you want to do with your life, you then need to plan. You don’t have to know all of the steps, or even all of the details of each step, but you do need to know the big buckets and general areas to focus on.

And then you need to start taking action! We are experts at procrastination. If something is important to you — and doing what you want with your life should be — then you need to devote time to it daily. What steps can you take today?

We put too much weight on what other people think and say.

We spend a lot of time worrying that other people will think we are crazy or won’t approve of our life choices or will make fun of us.

When you let other people dictate your life decisions you give your personal power to them, and effectively prevent yourself from living your life to its greatest potential.

Having people support and encourage you is a wonderful and necessary thing in your life. Having that person who will ask you the tough questions o you can clearly see the impact of your decisions or ideas is a gift. But the people who criticize you, minimize your dreams or discourage you are not ones that you want around you when you are following your dreams.

It can be difficult to release the perception that you need others’ permission or stamp of approval to move forward with your life. Family values, culture, and religion can all impact your ability to do what you want.

If you find yourself looking to others for their approval or letting them tell you how to live your life, remind yourself that you are the one who knows what is best for you and your life. You are the one who has to live with your decisions and the results of your actions, not them.

We create artificial boundaries and rules.

We tell ourselves that we will do something when we have — fill in the blank here — lost the weight, gotten the promotion, put the kids through college, found the right person to be with.

Each time you create a boundary or rule, you effectively close yourself off from moving toward the life you desire and the opportunities that would get you there. When you focus on having something happen and unfold exactly as you want it, when you want it, you can miss out or even prevent other things from coming in that could make your dream so much better than you had even imagined.

We have bought into society’s definition of success.

Every day, we are bombarded with messages that tell us we need to have certain things in order to be living life the correct way. We need to drive the latest model and type of car. Our house has to have so many square feet and a beautiful chef’s kitchen. Our clothing and shoes have to have the correct labels. Our hairstyle and body needs to look like a specific movie star. Rarely are we exposed to messages that remind us that true success is when we know who we are and what our gifts are and bring them forward every day.

There is nothing wrong with having nice things and being comfortable. We are meant to enjoy life. However, it is real easy to get so caught up in keeping up with the Joneses that you lose sight of what is truly important: living the life that your heart desires. You only get one shot at this life. Ask yourself what success means to you, rather than buying into what others tell you success is.

As you think about the life you want, remember that the only thing holding you back is YOU. But you also have the power and the ability to do what you want with your life. All you need to do is step forward and do it!

If you’d like more information about how to live your life courageously, visit my website and download my free e-book.