By the time I was in my late 30s, life had taken me down a path which led to single parenthood, four kids to raise and no college education. Good fortune smiled upon me one day, however, when I landed a clerical job at a local university. The salary was modest, but it was secure, and now I knew that I would be able to consistently provide the roof over our heads and the food on our table. As a university employee, I would also be able to enroll in college courses at the unheard of price of $13 a semester! So, after providing my high school transcripts dug from the ancient archives, I was admitted to the university and began the long and winding road toward a bachelor’s degree.
My time and energy, of course, were already spread quite thin, so the most I could manage to carry in one semester was one class, sometimes two. That meant that getting a “4-year degree” was going to be a long haul, but my family was my priority, so that was ok.
The years passed by; I continued working, and I continued going to school. By the time my youngest was approaching her high school graduation, I’d been making steady progress in my education and arguably, significant strides in my life. But years of negotiating the load I carried and the financial struggles that came with it, had an effect on how I saw myself, and my future. There was an inner voice that said, “Let’s face it, you’re never going to earn a ton of money and once you retire, your future will consist of making do with what you get from your modest pension.” This outcome was something I believed was my lot in life as a result of the path I had chosen early on. As if to present a contrast to my circumstances, I had a good friend at the time whose life had taken a different path. This person had a higher paying job than mine and financial options available that I thought would always be out of my reach. To sum it all up, I believed that I had missed the “success” boat early on and it was never coming back.
But one night quite out of the blue, while sitting in a poly sci class, my perspective took a drastic shift.
There I sat, swept up in a lecture I found fascinating, while thinking about how much I loved learning and particularly loved the social sciences. My mind wandered on until it reached an idea that I never before had considered. This time, a different voice came through to me, saying, “Once your bachelor’s degree is earned, you don’t have to stop there. You could go on to earn a master’s degree, if you wish!” When I pictured myself as someone possessing a master’s degree and the options it would bring, it was like knocking down a barrier that up to that point, had existed in my mind. Visions of a new future, one with real financial security and a wide array of vocational opportunities, suddenly seemed within my reach. This became a defining moment for me, because I began to see my life and my future in a new way.
This story is an example of having limiting beliefs, which are “thoughts, opinions that one believes to be the absolute truth. They tend to have a negative impact on one's life by stopping them from moving forward and growing on a personal and professional level.” (Amanda Alvernaz, These Limiting Beliefs Are Preventing You from Being Successful, June 18, 2020, blog.trello.com).
Have you ever tried taking an honest look at whether you have limiting beliefs? I think that by the time we reach mid-life, many of us live inside a mold that we’ve created for ourselves, a mold that springs from past experiences which we believe to be the predictor of our futures. In my situation, the mold was about career, education level and financial security, but self-made molds of many other kinds, exist.
They may have to do with what we’ve come to expect from intimate relationships, or what we’ve come to expect from family life. They may tell us we are not worthy. They may have to do with our belief in our ability to overcome addictions or other unhealthy patterns. They may tell us that we have no choice but to tolerate an abusive situation.
The experiences from our past that shape these expectations may have entered our lives through no fault of our own. Perhaps they were situations caused by the behavior of people over whom we had no control. In some cases, they may have been the result of our own choices. But whatever the circumstance, the good news is that the past does not have to be the predictor of our future. We must remember that!
It’s no wonder that while writing this article, a song from the early 2000s, “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield, kept playing through my head. I find it very inspiring; here are a few lines from it:
“Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find.
Drench yourself in words unspoken live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten”
In thinking more about it, I realize that perhaps the future isn’t always unwritten; it may exist in our heads, where we’ve told ourselves a story. So, here’s to throwing out old stories and charting a course that is different from what we’ve been thinking. We can start writing a new future today; one that includes our true potential.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.