There’s an old allegory about a baby elephant that is tied to a fence post. As the baby elephant tugs and pulls, it fails to break the fence or break the rope. Eventually, it gives up and makes peace with its fate. The baby elephant is stuck.
But eventually, the elephant grows up and becomes a big, adult elephant with huge legs, tusks and swirly trunk and it could easily walk away from the fence if it wanted to. But believing the fence to be some immovable thing, the adult elephant remains tied to it, falsely believing it can never get away.
I received the following question via Instagram the other day and I thought it’s a great topic and something many people suffer with.
“…... Wondering if you had some advice for someone stuck in the desktop support side of IT. Currently I’m trying to become a project manager or business system analyst to try and get experience more in the management side and currently half way through getting a masters. Is it even possible to do that?”
I loved this question as I said it comes up a lot, however, also as they are actually doing something about it as many people want the reward before the work. They want to work in management and are working on a masters 🙌, so they are already putting some serious effort in.
As soon as I read it, I thought to myself, why not? why is he even asking this question? Of course he can!
However, this is the case with so many people. Over the years they’ve either been told there is no path from operations into projects or they have been rejected enough times that they have decided it for them self.
Our beliefs put a boundary on what we believe is possible. For example there used to be a belief that without a university degree you can’t become a senior leader in a business, well I’m sitting here as a Senior IT Director with barely anything to show past GCSE (exams at 16 years old in the UK), or that your metabolism is stopping you from losing the weight you gained over the last 10 years of a busy job and family life.
Imagine if a group of women hadn’t overcome the belief that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote!
Remember though, some limiting beliefs are there for a good reason. 1. You’re not superman, you can’t fly and 2. It’s not ok to steal a car
There are generally 3 type of limiting belief:
Limits about yourself – that you can’t do something as there is something inherently wrong with you
Limits about the world – that you can’t do something as people won’t let you
Limits about life – something is too difficult
Limits about yourself examples
I can’t lose weight
I’m too young to be at associate director level
I’m rubbish at remembering names
I’m too ugly to get a date
Limits about the world examples
I need to buy a house as my parents said so
For progress I need to be in a management role
Success is earning more money
I need a university degree to succeed
Limits about life examples
I’m too busy, I don’t have time (my favourite)
Someone has already done that idea so I can’t do it
Firstly, it’s hard to spot you limiting beliefs as they are subconscious and inside you, and it’s even harder to overcome them. (Sorry, this isn’t an I’ll make you millions with Bitcoin email)
However, try the following:
1. Ask yourself, what if you’re wrong
When your roadblocking yourself, do a mini cross examination on yourself to try out the counter argument. If it’s about the uni degree, do some LinkedIn research and find some examples of leaders without a degree, it won’t take long as there are loads of them. This helps you depower the belief
2. Ask, how is this belief serving me
We often feel a victim but often they are there to protect us in some way. The elephant was protecting itself from the pain and strain when it was trying to break free as a baby. The limiting belief that you can’t lose weight, protects you from the hard work of losing the weight or the negative feelings if you try and fail
3. Create an alternative belief
If you take the belief that you’re too young for a senior role, create a belief on the benefits of a younger leader. Younger leaders are more energetic, younger leaders have a more collaborative working style or are aware of new ideas (p.s. I made these as examples, don’t come at me)
You can’t just make up a belief and hope it sticks, you need to do step 1 and 2 first to have uncovered flaws in the original belief and then …
4. Test out the alternative
Try the new belief like a test, see what progress is like and if it shifts your mindset. Track it where you can and review/adjust as needed
So, in summary, when there is something holding you back or keeping you from what you want. Don’t assume it’s a fact take the 4-step approach and see how you can unlock those doors that have been closed for so long
Just to close the loop on the question I’m sure you’re desperate to know, “what did you tell him?”. Well, first off I let him know that it’s absolutely possible and provided a few examples of people (no names) that had successfully transitioned from Ops to leadership or projects, then I provided the links to a few resources I have on getting noticed and career progress. Both I feel are very helpful in this situation as they talk about how to engage with leadership better, key interactions to have and building the experience you need. If he takes the advice and stays on his course, I know he will do well.