Have you ever watched a child walking beside one of their parents and noticed that parent and child had a similar gait? Maybe they both carried their shoulders the same way, or one foot turned out more than the other on both of them. Maybe they even both walked with the same limp.
In the first few years of life, children imitate everything they see. Those little bodies and brains, like sponges, absorb everything (behaviors, gestures, expressions, roles and beliefs) around them in an effort to learn and grow—in an effort to belong.
This desire to belong is always working underneath the surface and informing how we think, how we act, and what we believe.
When I got pregnant at sixteen, I experienced deafening silence in my home and in some of my friendships. There were severed ties, backs instead of faces, and hooded stares that quickly turned away when eyes met with mine.
These behaviors led me to create a set of beliefs:
I messed up—Big Time.
I let a lot of people down.
It’s not okay to mess up.
It’s not okay to let people down.
It’s not okay to do anything wrong.
Our beliefs come from a lot of places: our experiences, our parents and care givers, school, religious affiliations, and the expectations of our culture and social environment. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of certain beliefs and how they are impacting us until we are placed in a situation that challenges our opinions and views, attitudes and behaviors—all of the ways we are living and existing in the world.
I certainly didn’t realize how deeply certain beliefs were impacting me until I took a bold step and asked this question: “What is stopping me from finishing my book?
Beliefs are meant to be questioned, explored, and even disproven. Because sometimes our beliefs are really misbeliefs created out of that fear of not belonging.
Crafting a novel has forced me to look at my main character, Alexandria’s, beliefs. She has always believed in one true love, but as a widow and a recent empty nester she is leaning into the idea of a new relationship. Her Christian beliefs have led her to a place where she wants a sign from her deceased husband that it’s okay for her to love again. Alexandria also has a set of underlying beliefs that were established by her family and her social environment. These family and societal beliefs are not as obvious to her, but they also challenge her ability to love again.
Reflecting on Alexandria’s beliefs has led me to examine my own. As I discuss these thoughts with family, friends, and other writers and book coaches, I’ve come to see that some of my beliefs are not shared by others. There is no surprise there, because we are all unique individuals with varying experiences, so it makes sense that we would develop varying beliefs.
The surprising thing is how often I fret that my beliefs are wrong, or that I’m not getting my story right. I worry about sharing my finished book out into a world full of people who might believe that my whole fictional creation is wrong.
But can a fictional creation even be wrong? Oh, the heyday my mind has with this one, telling me people will say things like:
It took you twelve years to write this?
You can tell this is her first book.
Her character arc is weak.
The plot is a set of disjointed events.
I just can’t connect with her whiny character …
Do you see how all of these thoughts are loaded with the fear of being wrong and (mostly) not belonging? And not smart enough? Not enough? There are a lot of misbeliefs in these thoughts. And especially in this one:
–> Did you know she had a baby at sixteen?<–
That last one kept worming its way into my head again and again. In my critical mind, I believed I would forever be judged as wrong because of an event (a blessing) from my past. I didn’t even realize how deeply engrained that belief—I was wrong, terrible, horrible, bad (insert every degrading insult here)— was, and how much it was impacting my movement in the world until I decided to figure out why I was so scared to finish the book and share it with the world.
Working with a leadership coach (Thank you, Tanya Geisler!) helped me uncover the gaps in my thinking and all the ways they were (Many times still are, hence The Imposter Complex traits Tanya specializes in uncovering.) getting in the way of taking action toward my dreams. Those gaps and stalled actions were grounded in misbeliefs that revolved around fear and belonging. I was still fearful, thirty years after the fact, of being judged for becoming a mother at sixteen. I was still afraid of being ousted from family, friend groups, and my community for doing something wrong. I was still too worried about what other people thought and not focused enough on what mattered most to me.
It was time—past time—for me to question, explore, and shift my outdated, joy-consuming misbelief that I was wrong for having a baby at sixteen. That misbelief was wreaking havoc on my progress on my book, and creating yet another set of misbeliefs to keep me playing small. And just to note, uncovering misbeliefs is a lifelong practice not a one and done kind of thing. Because as we evolve, or more like part of our evolving is the requirement of thinking about what we’re thinking about–our beliefs.
Even though it’s hard, there is a huge reward in doing the work required to question, explore, and shift our misbeliefs. Are you ready to do that work? Are you ready to shine some grace on some area that’s holding you back or keeping you small?
My next post will dive into core values. This is a good place to start examining our beliefs because our values are what lead us to form beliefs in the first place.
More to come …