You don’t enjoy selling yourself short, and yet you most likely do a lot of the time.
It’s probably such a habit by now that you barely notice as it happens, but you’re always left with the thought that you could’ve, should’ve done something differently. You beat yourself up for playing it small. And you think, only if you had taken that chance, you’d be so much happier right now. Life could be different.
In second grade, my teacher let every kid pick a piece of candy out of a bowl as a treat. As she passed each desk, I could see the good candy slowly disappearing, and got worried there’d only be something lame left by the time she got to me.
But to my giddy surprise, there was a fun-sized box of Dots sitting nicely atop a B-list status mix of citrus flavored Tootsie Rolls.
“I want the Dots!” said someone behind me.
I turned around, and it was one of the popular boys. Taking this as a signal that I was standing in the way of something he wanted, I chose a lime-flavored Tootsie Roll instead.
“Is that all you want?” asked my teacher.
It wasn’t, but I nodded and inspected the wrapper of my choice, wondering where the imaginations the makers of the chocolate Tootsie Roll went wrong.
She left my desk and went to the boy behind me, and he quickly grabbed the box of Dots. I went home upset, and was clearly disappointed enough to still be talking about it two decades later.
This is why to this day, I hold a ferocious hate towards lime-flavored Tootsie Rolls.
Because to me, they’re not only weird and shouldn’t exist, but they remind me of a time when I denied myself something I really wanted.
Here’s what was going on in my seven-year-old mind:
- I was taught to never take more than I needed, and in this moment I didn’t need the Dots, I just wanted them. And wanting them didn’t feel like a good enough reason to take them.
- Popularity equaled authority back then, and I was always taught to heed to authority. So, naturally, I gave in to someone who I perceived as having higher authority than me.
- I was always called “nice” as a kid, and letting someone else have something they wanted seemed like the nice thing to do. Who would I be, if I wasn’t the “nice one”?
If I could travel back through time, I’d give myself a hug and say, “Someone’s going to end up taking the Dots, why not you?”
There is this strange belief that self-sacrifice equals doing the respectable thing, but what often isn’t talked about is when self-sacrificing behaviors are practiced so much that they become self-limiting beliefs, and how those self-limiting beliefs can stunt our personal growth.
Growing up in a Filipino family, it was often seen as the “right” thing for me to do to give up something for myself to benefit others, mostly for my parents or to conform to social expectations.
And this behavior was rewarded over and over again until it became automatic. It became so automatic that I started to believe it. I believed it so much that I identified with it.
But it is harmful to our growth when we start to see self-limiting beliefs as a part of our identities.
Because the truth is, you’re not doing anyone any favors by letting yourself have less than what you deserve.
Be honest about how much you believe you’re worth
People who are a part of marginalized communities or who have had to fight their way through life tend to undervalue themselves, so you could probably have more than you have right now if you asked or tried for it.
It’s easy to talk yourself out of an opportunity if you don’t believe you’re worth it.
Earlier this year, I moved to a new state, signed a lease on an apartment, lost my health insurance and was unemployed. I needed a job, bad.
Then, I got to interview with an organization about a position I was really excited about. They gave me an offer, but I was crushed when they offered me a salary that was lower than I expected.
My gut instinct was to quickly accept the offer and be thankful that I had a job offer. The salary was okay. It was just enough.
But there comes a point when we realize just enough is not good enough. “Just enough” doesn’t help you thrive.
I thought deeply about what I felt my work was worth and made a list of all my skills and what I could bring to the table. Then, I put a number on it. And added $5000 to that number (you always need a negotiation buffer). I fired off my e-mail with my counter-offer and immediately ran away from my computer like it was about to explode.
Panicked and low-level thoughts ran through my mind: “They’re going to think I’m greedy”, “I should’ve just been happy with what they gave me”.
After my fear subsided, I found that underneath that fear was excitement and an intense pride that I had actually did it – I spoke up for what I wanted without being apologetic (or rude) about it. I assessed my own worth and told others what that was.
A few days passed, and I heard nothing from them.
Finally, I got an e-mail following up about my salary request. And they gave it to me.
THEY GAVE IT TO ME!
I realized something in this moment. If you value yourself, it influences others to value you at that same level. You start to send the message, “Hey, this is what I believe I’m worth and there is nothing you can tell me or do to me that will make me think any different.”
There is no limit to how much you can learn to value yourself, so there is no limit to the ways you invite others to learn how to value you.
This is what making empowering and exciting decisions feels like. It’s choosing for yourself without letting someone else choose for you, and it’s asking for what you believe you deserve without feeling guilty.
Get comfortable with being an authority
You know what’s really unproductive? Being our own worst critic. And yet when it comes to talking ourselves down, it’s a bad habit for most of us.
Lots of our negative self-talk comes from not believing that we have the authority or the smarts to be the one to take the lead. We tell ourselves:
“It’s just not the right time.”
“I don’t have the skills.”
“I think it’d be better if someone else does it.”
Most people in this world don’t know what they’re doing. The people who do look like they have a handle on things appear so because they’re not afraid to try. Try and fail, try and succeed, try and fail three more times, try and learn, and then try again.
More importantly, they don’t attach themselves to thoughts that make them give up their power.
The lies we tell ourselves come from not believing that we have the authority to speak up or take action on something that we are probably qualified for.
A mental shift you can take to help snap yourself out of this is to start seeing your ideas as contributions.
I’m assuming you are a kind and generous person, so you probably like the idea of contributing. Seeing the act of speaking up or taking the lead on something as a way of contributing rather than asserting power or control can help make the thought of holding authority a little less uncomfortable.
Once you get into the habit of continuously contributing, you’ll start to see the value you bring. Contribute until you become the person who looks like they know what they’re doing.
Better yet, contribute until you fully develop the trust in yourself to know that your voice is important, and that you’re qualified to be doing what you’re doing.
When your self-perception is tied to a limiting belief
We are all products of how we were raised to think.
As a trans, non-binary, queer person who was raised in a traditional Catholic Filipino household, I was conditioned to think about myself, others, and the world in a very particular way, and these thinking patterns were reinforced by my culture and the people around me.
Because of this, I held various subconscious limiting beliefs.
I spoke with a woman who identified as mixed race, Filipino and white, but was raised mostly by her white father.
We spoke about self-doubt, and she told me, “I’m pretty assertive. I’m a white man in an Asian woman’s body.”
Her words had a powerful impact on me. They made me realize that it’s not always our identities themselves that result in self-limiting beliefs, but what we believe those identities to mean.
In an interview on Bloomberg, Oprah (no last name necessary) is quoted saying,
“The grace for me is that I didn’t spend a day in a segregated school. So I did not have one moment of ever being conditioned to believe that I was less than anybody.”
She talks more about this and how we become what we believe in this video here.
The point is when we start to attach limiting beliefs to our identity, we hold ourselves back because we start to believe who we are can only take us so far.
I had a lot of self-limiting beliefs that I connected to my identity. Some of them sounded like this:
|“It’s rude to be too outspoken. Besides, Asians aren’t loud.”||Not true. This Filipino guy I know named Bruno Mars is so loud.|
|“Asking for and wanting more money is selfish and greedy. So if you want more money, you’re selfish and greedy.”||Also not true. Having more money only amplifies who you are, so if you’re a good person, you create more good with your money. If you’re a bad person, you will probably create more bad.|
|“I won’t be seen as ‘woke’ if I pursue a high-paying, high-power career. The further up the ladder I go, the further I get from my community.”||Do you know how excited communities get when they see one of their own make it to the top? Please see: “BeyHive”.
Making it to the top creates hope, and role models. And we need more of those.
If we really dissect these, we can see how a lot of these thoughts can result in missed opportunities.
Underneath all of this was the sinking feeling that I was holding myself back by letting these thoughts dictate my actions. I was doing this because of what I had been taught to believe about myself, not because of who I believed myself to be.
Part of self-development is reprogramming your self-perception into something that more aligns with who you really are. This means undoing, re-working and re-defining who you believe yourself to be.