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What’s holding you back?

Brown bison on road winding through vast open land.

When trying to figure out what to do next in life, just thinking about what you could do, how you could do it, if you could do it, when you could do it, can bring up obstacles that stop you from getting out of the starting blocks.  In fact, it’s highly likely you just want to lie down.

If you are experiencing this, let’s help you step back and get closer to what’s really holding you back from exploring what you could do next in life.

There are a whole host of constraints that may be hemming you in. If you can recognise them and start to unpack them, you might find that much of what you are currently believing is based on perception. 

Equally, you might gain clarity on constraints that are real. 

Knowledge of both the perceived and real will help you when it comes to taking realistic action to implement your chosen path (more on that another time). 

Try this exercise* to identify your constraints:

Read through the following list and jot down which statements apply to you.

  • I am too old
  • I am under-qualified
  • My experience is all in one area
  • I have a health problem
  • Lack of information about the area I am interested in
  • Financial commitments
  • Family/personal problems
  • Fear of approaching people
  • Lack of confidence
  • I don’t have many achievements
  • I worry about taking risks
  • I have no idea what to do next
  • I have too many ideas of what I could do next
  • I worry that I won’t make a success of whatever it is I do next
  • Lack of up to date skills
  • Fear of rejection
  • Lack of relevant qualifications
  • Lack of relevant experience
  • Worry about having to retrain or go back to full time study
  • So far, my search for what to do next hasn’t worked
  • I don’t want to make the wrong decision at this time in my life

You might want to let your list percolate a little before you move to the next step. This could reveal more clarity on the real barriers you are encountering. Sometimes we can’t recognise what may be holding us back as it has comfortably settled into our thinking and doesn’t seem like a barrier at first glance. 

When you feel satisfied with your choices, (yes, you guessed it), it’s time for some reflection.

Get curious and answer the following questions to understand more about the barriers you have identified:

  • What’s surprised you?
  • If you have identified several constraints, which ones keep you awake at night?
  • Which constraints have you overcome in the past and how?
  • Which constraints can you do something about (even if this feels scary)?
  • Which constraints would you like to do something about? What could this look like?
  • If these constraints were no longer there, what would this mean?

It can be helpful to unpack your answers to these questions with someone you trust. This gives you the opportunity to disrupt your current thinking and see your constraints from new angles. From here you may find some of your constraints are not quite as real as you previously thought. Then you can start to think more freely about the ‘what ifs?’ as you contemplate the possibilities that await you.

Now you are out of the starting blocks and can begin to walk the path of the explorer.  You have unlocked a little of your curiosity; watch and see where it might lead you.

*Exercise originally published in ‘How to Get a Job You Love’, John Lees (McGraw-Hill). Used with permission.  Adapted by Victoria Howard.

Photo by Tim Wilson on Unsplash.