Belief is a powerful thing. What we believe about any one thing will directly affect how we interact with that thing. If I believe the floor is sturdy, I will stand on it without questioning or even thinking of its integrity. If I believe something is dangerous, even if it’s not, I will be more careful when interacting with that thing. An example of this is being under a car. No matter how strong, sturdy, or secure a car is when it is up on a lift or pulled up on a set of ramps, I can’t seem to shake my fear of it falling on me when I am underneath it. Recently I was changing the oil on my Ford Explorer, which has tires big enough that I can crawl underneath the vehicle without having to lift it at all. Even though the truck was not lifted and was resting on its tires on the ground, when I was underneath it draining the oil, I could not shake my fear that the tires were going to burst in that moment and the truck was going to fall on me and crush me. What we believe about anything affects how we act when interacting with it.
This is also true about what we believe about ourselves. When we believe we can do something, we will try it. When we believe we can’t do something, we will never try it or give up quickly. This is why, as a teacher, I often saw my students, and still see my own children, quickly give up when working on something that is difficult and then just sit there, waiting for “help” instead of struggling and trying on their own. Similarly, we humans foolishly choose paths in life too often based on these false perceptions about what we believe is true about ourselves, which have no basis in reality. I have made many life decisions in the past 20 years of my life based on a false understanding I had about myself which I now call the poverty mindset, which was based entirely on a myth that I was not worthy to be counted as successful by society’s standards.
That is what the content of this blog symbolizes for me. An internal change in my beliefs about myself.
Believe in yourself. For some of you that seems like not a very profound statement. Not me. As a Christian for most of my life, I have always wanted to be careful to not ascribe to statements that would compete with all glory going to God. I used to go to a church that was very intent on identifying the right things to say, and which highlighted a very close link between your beliefs and your actions and words. This church was full of wonderful people and I learned much and developed a love of Jesus there that I never had before. However, this church also instilled in me an overly critical mindset. When someone would say something like “Believe in yourself.” I was trained to instantly identify that as a heretical statement. For, humans are only sinful wretches and offer nothing good. We shouldn’t believe in ourselves, we should believe in Jesus; He is the only one worthy of our trust.
Like a good follower, I always reacted to the “Believe in yourself” statement with instant criticism. I would not fall into that trap of believing in yourself. No way. The problem with my commitment to never condone the “believe in yourself” mantra is that I have also always struggled with lack of confidence around fellow adults, especially other guys. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake this lack of confidence.
I believe there is a direct link between my religiously-based rejection of “Believe in yourself” and my lack of confidence. Could it be that it is okay to “Believe in yourself” and still be a faithful Christian who wants to glorify Jesus in all you do?
Not too long ago, as I wrote about in a previous post, I stumbled upon the story of how Matt Nagy, who was just voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season as the Chicago Bears head coach, rose to become an NFL football coach. Nagy’s story and example of how he lives his life has been inspiring to me. During games he carries with him a large laminated play-calling sheet. In big words in one corner are the words, “BE YOU!”. He told some reporters that he tries to live by that saying. That if he is going to fail he will fail giving it his all while being who he truly is. That struck a chord with me, and continued me on an exciting journey. I began more deeply reflecting on my life and who I am and how I got here.
In my full time job I am a Realtor. I used to be a middle and high school teacher, but left teaching for various reasons two years ago to be a full time Realtor. Having always struggled with self-confidence, especially around other guys, I felt very frustrated with myself that I had not accomplished more in my life and gone further in any given career. As I began to self-reflect with honesty and began asking myself some hard questions, I began to realize that I had what I call a poverty mindset, and this poverty mindset was limiting my ability to grow.
A story about an encounter I had with someone while I was serving with my wife in the church nursery caring for babies on a Sunday morning best captures one of the major causes of my confidence struggles, and sheds light on the solution. As I was speaking with a fellow church member who was serving in the nursery with us, he was telling me about being unemployed and how hard that had been for him. At the time, I was a teacher at a small Christian school making $20,000 per year with no benefits. My wife worked as a stay-at-home mom and we had two boys under the age of 5. We struggled to pay the bills. As this guy was telling me about his own struggle of unemployment, he said, “This year has been hard. It is the first time in my life that I have never made at least $100,000 in a year.” My jaw dropped. I was working 50+ hours per week making a poverty income and had to pick up a job stocking shelves at night and on the weekends for an additional 15 to 20 hours per week just to pay our bills, and this dude is complaining to me that he hasn’t made $100,000 this year?! Who does he think he is?! How arrogant of him to say that to me! Doesn’t he know who he is talking to? Those were my thoughts after his comment.
For several years after that I was pretty ticked off at the guy. You see, when someone believes it is wrong to “Believe in yourself.” and they struggle with self-confidence, they put powerful and low limits on what they can accomplish. This was an amazing scene. The other guy believed in himself and I didn’t believe in myself. So his comment was very offensive to me because I did not believe that I would ever make that much money in my life.
My family grew up poor by American standards. My father never finished high school. He was a very good man who did the best he knew how to care for and provide for his family, but he was not very well equipped. We moved from house to house growing up. We would get behind in rent and we would be forced to move to a new rental home. Consequently I changed school districts about every 1 to 2 years. By the time I was in 8th grade I had been in 6 different school districts. Consequently my grades were also bad. My dad did not effectively teach me to be disciplined. My mother worked very hard to teach me self-discipline but I was a stubborn, resistant child. Furthermore, I remember there were many times when our power was shut off for days or weeks at a time, or we had no hot water and we had to boil water to take a sponge bath or take a cold shower.
My dad struggled with a lot of insecurity as well. He was often borrowing money from people and unable to pay it back. He created a low self-image for himself and our family and projected that low self-image onto others. I recall one time I was sitting in the bleachers around 12 years old at a church softball game in which my dad was playing. A couple of young men in their early twenties sitting right in front of me began making fun of my dad behind his back unaware of my presence. When they realized I was sitting behind them and could hear them, they seemed embarrassed but said nothing to me. I understood who we were and that identity became my identity. When my dad was finally able to buy a home for the first time when I was in high school, he then had it repossessed when I was 19 years old. This way of life was generated out of a way of thinking within my dad, and I was brought up in that same way.
So when this man in the nursery lamented having not made $100,000 for the first time in his life, it offended me because he was supposed to know what I already believed, that he was talking to a failure whose lot in life was to always struggle to provide for his family. That was the way I saw myself. I wouldn’t dare to allow myself to believe I could make $100,000 per year, and if I did dare to think that might be possible, I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else know I was thinking it. They might mock me and think I was crazy. After all, it is me we are talking about here.
This whole mindset was supported out of a belief that it is wrong to “believe in yourself.” I would never let myself ascribe to the “believe in yourself” mantra. It was a couple of years after the $100,000 comment that I began to slowly realize that I am no different than the other guy, and I can give myself permission to think big and dream big. I continued to teach another 5 years at two other schools before I decided that if I was ever going to break this low self-image, and earn enough money to truly provide for my family, that I would have to leave the teaching profession altogether and pursue a career which had an uncapped earning potential. So I became a full time realtor. Ever since then I have been on a journey of slowly identifying ways I am still living in the self-inflected poverty mindset and trying to break down those false barriers I have constructed preventing my own success.
Then I learned of Matt Nagy and his rise to head coach. Nagy was selling homes as a realtor when he had a chance to become an assistant coach in the NFL. Something about his “Be You” slogan, his self-confidence, and his risk-taking struck a chord with me. Around the same time, I stumbled across a book entitled The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by a Christian man named John Maxwell. In the book, he urges his readers to believe they are dignified humans with a lot more potential than they realize. He spends a lot of time encouraging his readers to believe in themselves. This challenged me. How can a Christian writer be saying we should believe in ourselves. Believe in Yourself? Could it be that it is okay for me to believe in myself. That I can do that without compromising my faith in Jesus.
That I can confess to be a sinner in need of God’s grace while also believing I am a human created by a creative God who has given me certain gifts and qualities that are good and worthy to be developed. Yes! Something clicked.
When I realized it was okay to be a Christian and still believe in myself, my gifts and abilities, and that I have great potential to accomplish great things, it was like something clicked inside of me. The potential to excel and accomplish great things, and earn enough to provide for my family has always been there but I lacked the ability to access it. I suspect I will be continuing to gradually uncover ways I have limited myself by believing something was impossible for me. I suppose living in the reality that it is okay to believe in yourself will be a lifelong journey in which I have to uncover many old barriers I need to break down, but I now have access to the right mindset to break down those barriers. If you or someone you know has struggled to believe in yourself/themselves, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you. I hope you will realize that no matter where you come from, you truly are a person created by God with dignity and the potential to do more than you realize. The first or next step for you just might be to believe in yourself.