Three Ways We Block Success

I’ve often wondered why people don’t, as a rule, live up to their potential, why we block success. People who have fabulous skills who for many reasons don’t feel the need to use them. A great friend of mine has the interior designer skill of Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. She tirelessly attacks her house like painting the Forth Bridge. She finishes designing and changing her final room, then starts again. Her imagination, flair and precision to detail and colour are amazing.

She makes her living from a completely different profession. One where she contributes greatly, but it is hard work and low paid. A few years ago I asked her why she didn’t take her outstanding design skills to the next level, get paid for it, and become a success. I realised there was a lot at stake when she gave me about 15 resounding reasons why not. It made me think about how routinely we block success.

There is proof we block success

When researching for my degree dissertation, one of the questions I asked about 100 people was: “If you had all the money you wanted and there were no obstacles, would you be doing what you do now?” I can’t remember the exact figures, but it was in the 80%+ bracket of those interviewed who said “no. They wouldn’t”. When I asked them what they would do instead, some had startling clear ideas. Some had a bit of an idea and others didn’t know. What they were sure of though was it wasn’t what they did right now.

It’s not just about making use of our talent and skills. Many of us (me included) procrastinate and talk about the fact that “we should get more sleep” or “we should lose those extra pounds” or “we need to stop working so hard, spend time with the family, take that holiday we’ve always dreamed about. I imagine you can add to the list.

The shadow effect

I listened to the audio version of “The Shadow Effect” (2009) a co-authored book by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson. The three authors describe their unique perspectives of how our unconscious or our shadow affects us all. For those on a spiritual path, the book is a must. For those of you who aren’t, there are still many great psychological principles which are useful to understand if you want to really be your true self.

In the book, Debbie Ford describes how our shadow dictates our behaviour. How we need to look within to harness and direct what can be an unconscious destructive power. If we are being driven by an unconscious force, then we don’t know about it and are we are in denial. Our shadow is made up of all the characteristics, feelings, memories and traits we want to bury away and forget. When such episodes are repressed then, they don’t go away. They are stored and resurface in a number of destructive ways.

I have done enough reflection and work on myself to have experienced the sweet release when you face up to a painful or shameful memory, and come to terms with it. I recognise the healing power of looking at our shadow, although it doesn’t make it any easier, and there is always something to look at.  It is very much a lifelong journey.

In the workplace, again and again, I’ve seen characters who had potential to be a success, who at the last minute would do something to jeopardise their progress. I saw people yearning for a different lifestyle, not extraordinary outrageous changes, just simple ones. But forever keeping it out of their reach. There are many ways we sabotage our success, for me the following are the 3 most prevalent.

1.  Repressing painful memories

Not facing up to our inner pain seems like a good strategy. Who wants to feel pain? Of course, we don’t. Allowing ourselves to work through pain heals and releases us from unnecessary suffering. The main reason we hold onto unnecessary pain is that we have interpreted the pain we are feeling to mean something about us. “He left because I wasn’t good enough”, or,” He lost his job because he is just one of life’s losers”.  We bury the pain because we cannot bear to face the incorrect interpretation we have arrived at. The repression of this pain is one of the reasons we block success.

2. Allowing fear to prevent us to maximise our talents

Many of us live in our comfort zone. This prevents us from facing fears which is an essential part of growing and living. When I asked my friend why she didn’t want to take her interior design skills and get paid for her obvious talent, one of the many reasons she stated, was: “Who would want someone of my age to design their houses?” (She was in her mid-40’s at the time). What this response and many others amount to, one of our many human foibles is that many of us just don’t feel good enough. The truth is of course, that we are all good enough, and we don’t have to be perfect. We block success by giving into our fear.

3. Claiming inappropriate guilt when we have honoured ourselves.

My friends got together many years ago, leaving their respective spouses. They had kids, and it was a terrible guilt-gut wrenching time for all involved. A couple of years ago, my friends realised that guilt was still dictating their lives when their children were all stretching them to the limit and causing havoc. Although they didn’t realise it, they were not drawing appropriate boundaries and limits because they felt guilty. One of the ex-spouses had never married again, proclaiming that their life had been ruined. This spectre of blame and guilt overshadowed the lives of the long-married pair.

When removing oneself from a poor relationship, it is a way of honouring oneself. That is not to say there should not be respect, kindness and consideration for the other partner who may not want the split. Certainly, if you want to move on from a relationship, you have to take responsibility. But how long should you wear that hair shirt? Of course, it benefits no-one and especially those children, who needed to understand that sometimes, life’s like that. Once they realised their guilt was governing their lives, they made some big changes, and months later, much happier children resulted and a much happier family life was achieved.

At work too, the collective shadow can come into play, keeping great potential cloaked in an unhappy comfort zone, creating conflict and affecting the success of the team. Organisations carry their own stories of guilt, repression of feelings and fear. That’s why story-telling and re-framing the past as well as stories about the vision for the future is so important for businesses.

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