My grandson Baker is 16 months old. For him, the world is a wide-open classroom of exploration. He’s as interested in how to use a screwdriver to put batteries in his toy as he is in the smell of a flower. Everything fascinates him.
He hasn’t lived long enough to put limits on himself, to characterize Baker as a certain type of person, with statements like “I’m not mechanical” “I’m not good at math” “I can’t . . .” Baker doesn’t know yet what he can’t do; He just tries.
He’s such an example to me, his ‘Grammy’ who has avoided things by putting limits on what I believe I can do. Over the years, I’ve formed an identity from these beliefs. At times, I’ve assumed I couldn’t do something because it didn’t come easily. Like most folks, I’ve learned to navigate around what I didn’t think I could do or knew I didn’t want to do.
Some of those limits I placed on myself were based on the roles I observed. Starting in childhood, I knew there were certain things I could count on Daddy to do, like taking care of the maintenance of our house and farm. I bought into a stereotype that was common to my Baby Boomer Era that men are more mechanical than women and able to fix things. I never questioned this view and continued with this assumption when I married. Even the small jobs like replacing a smoke detector or programming the thermostat, I left up to my husband.
Because I struggled in Mr Calhoun’s 9th grade algebra class, I made the assumption that I couldn’t do math. I worked through my difficulty enough to get through the required college courses, but continued with the identity of being ‘math deficient.’ Later, that transferred to a belief that I’m not good at finances and less able in handling financial matters.
The areas of managing the house and finances are ones that many married women have deferred to their husbands. But since women usually outlive men, a lot of women have been forced to accept these responsibilities when they were left behind. Soon they have to learn the same skills as females who’ve lived alone.
I think of Mama and how she was suddenly widowed at 54 years old when my father died of a massive heart attack. She was left with a house and farm to take care of. Over the years, we witnessed Mama’s strength as she learned to manage her tobacco allotment, rent out portions of the farm, and work with the forestry service around the timbered land. Later, she took many steps to develop a mobile home park. After that, she managed the property and collected the rent. While she and Daddy had worked together with the family finances, she moved forward with providing income for her future.
Now, I face my future and need to step out of my limiting identity and embrace the things I’ve either not wanted to do or believed I couldn’t. Instead of immediately thinking of getting my husband to do something, I have to look at how I can do it myself. There will be things, like there’ve always been, that I’ll hire a skilled person to take care of. But that will happen after I first consider, “Can I do it myself?”
One of the things Baker loves to do is turn things on-and-off– especially the switch for the porch ceiling fan. He learned this skill like every other– by doing it repeatedly. I’ve taught him to celebrate the things he learns to do by exclaiming, “I did it!” and pointing to himself. He doesn’t have the pointing part yet, but he’ll sometimes say, “I did” and occasionally it sounds like he puts all three words together.. Sometimes we even clap.
In the year ahead as I travel forward, my desire is to let go of my limiting beliefs and reconsider what I’m capable of doing. Following what I’ve learned with Baker, I’ll exclaim to myself, or perhaps to a room full of people, “I did it!” and maybe we’ll clap for those steps in my growth.
How About You?
What limiting beliefs have you had about yourself?
What steps can you take away from that identity toward one of capability?