Why didn’t anyone tell me?


I got my first eye test when I was in the fifth grade. It turned out I was blind in one eye.

I caught a fair amount of flack over it. “Why didn’t you tell us you couldn’t see out of both eyes?” they said. The answer, to me, was simple – No one told me I was supposed to be able to see out of both eyes. It was my normal.

Last week I wrote about false beliefs, and how they often hold us back. I have been the poster child for this, and at times, I still am. Whenever I feel like I can’t do something, I find that it is some false belief holding me back, not reality or the long list of things I use to make excuses.

You may have had some of them yourself. Here are some examples:

  • If I don’t please the people in my life, they may reject or abandon me, and that would destroy me.
  • I must be completely competent, consistent and perfect in everything I do.
  • I need someone or something stronger than myself to rely on. (another version of that is “I am helpless.”
  • My past determines my future.
  • Anger is always bad
  • I am not smart enough (or talented enough) to become what I want to become.
  • I am not attractive enough

And the list goes on and on. Perhaps you see yourself in this list. Perhaps you don’t, but the odds are, if we aren’t where we want to be, we have some beliefs that are holding us back, and we’ve never taken the time or the hard work of really look at them.

In the coaching business, we call these “irrational beliefs” because they ARE beliefs. We believe them with all our hearts. They are part of the foundation of the walls that hold us back from where we want to be in life. And while most of them have been created by people in our lives – family, spouses, etc – we have claimed them as our own and repeated them so many times that they become truth with a capital “T”.

Make that a capital “T”, with neon lights in the brightest colors imaginable. These thoughts are so entrenched because we have repeated them to ourselves a zillion times.

Without actually looking at them.

Why would we look at them? Well, because the brain is stupid. It tends to agree with whatever we tell it. Tell the brain you aren’t smart enough enough times and that becomes truth. Never mind the fact that day in and day out. you might do all kinds of smart things. But of we look at things, find the truth, find that we are actually far more than we imagine ourselves to be, then we start telling the brain something new. And life changes because we change. That’s how it works. (People way smarter than me have said this and shown this for many, many years. I’m just the messenger.)

For most of my life, I believed I was bad at math. And there was some evidence to back it up. I flunked Algebra in High school. Never mind that most of my class flunked that year. Never mind that I got an “A” in it in summer school. Never mind that the teach was put on probation and eventually let go for being such a bad teacher. I was bad at algebra.

As it turned out, I was bad at calculus too. I had to take it in college. Failed it once and struggled through it the second time. I had the same teacher both times and the second go around he told me “Atkins, you’ll never pass this. So show up. Do the work. And I’ll give you a ‘C’ so you can graduate.”

So I told myself I was bad at math. But that wasn’t the truth. I’m actually pretty good at it. I ended up in jobs that required a lot of math. Design jobs. Engineering jobs. I ran companies and divisions of companies that used math all the time. I did it and did it well.  Before spreadsheets.

But I was bad at Math.

No, I wasn’t. I was bad at theoretical math. But give me a real world problem and I could apply math to it as well, and likely better than most people. But I didn’t believe it about myself until I was in my forties. It was a false belief, and it held me back. I lived in fear of math, even as I did it well, every day.

We all do it. Or most of us do.

But… check out the people who live the life they want and live a life they love, and most of them have dug through their irrational beliefs and spent some time really examining them.

A few people can do this on their own, but most of us can’t. Why not? Because we have believed theses things so long and so strongly, that we often are not aware of them. We are not aware of how they are holding us back, or why they might be false. We are afraid to look at them because they make us feel badly about ourselves, and we are so sure of them that we don’t even entertain the thought that they might be false.

So we need help. A friend with a clear mind and a better opinion of us than we have. A therapist. A coach. There are lots of options. You need someone who will push past your beliefs and look at the evidence, the real evidence, of what is, not what we believe.

And we need a little courage. Because challenging long-held beliefs, even ones that hold us back, is a little scary.

We need a little courage, but not a lot. Because when we start, and we begin to see those irrational beliefs for what they are, and we replace them with beliefs that are evidence based, that are real, then the wall start to fall down between where we are and where we want to be.

What do you believe that is holding you back? Are you willing to really examine those beliefs? If you are, life will change.

I guarantee it.

Be well. Travel wisely,


Magnetic compass on a world map

The Work of It

The Work of It

It does not happen at once, the journey.
It takes a boat and a boat takes building,
hard work, painstaking and unforgiving.
There is pain in it,
and beauty too
as you go from raw wood
to finished craft,
ready to face the sea
and capture the wind.

About this poem

The things we want most in life – love, relationships, faith – don’t just happen. We have to prepare ourselves first. And once prepared…. they come.

We forget that sometimes.