What Stops You From Living Big?
Four Reasons We Live Small Lives

What Stops You from Living Big
You want to do great things with your life—you want to live big. To rocket to distant planets, write epics, end hunger, but, instead, you’re stuck at home doing the dishes or cutting the grass.

You want more for yourself than you’ve got.

To some extent, this is normal and not a problem—your reach, after all, should exceed your grasp—and you may well be comfortable with what you’ve achieved even when you dream of bigger things. Getting to the top of Denali may leave you content even if you had dreamt of Everest.

It’s when circumstances stop you well within your range—when you know you are capable of far more than you are producing—that frustration builds and your internal critic, or your spouse, colleagues, or boss start criticizing you for not “living up to your potential”—that a problem arises. 

If you feel stopped, if you aren’t living as big or expansive or ambitious a life as you would like, there are likely just a handful of things that are stopping you. Pushing beyond this obstacle will take some work but is totally doable. 

In this essay, I’d like to provide an overview of the most common obstacles that stop us (hint: you created all of them), and then in later essays, I’ll dig deeper into each one.

Stopped by noes

What’s your relationship to “no”? Do you quail? Do you quit? Do you (the worst) not even attempt your project in fear of a no?

The noes you get from others are usually not as paralyzing as the noes you tell yourself. Listen to your reasons and rationalizations for not doing something—those are your noes, and they will stop you cold. 

If noes stop you, it’s likely you’re living a small life. It’s simply not possible to do anything big or ambitious without receiving noes all the time. Being a leader, grabbing for the brass ring, forging your own life always ticks off, threatens, or provokes other people—and their default reaction is a no. Expect them.

When you get a no—from someone else or yourself—don’t ask yourself whether the no is valid or not; that’s just another way to stop you. Instead, take it as a data point, as a piece of relevant information, and use it to inform and rethink your approach. Ask who you need to be or what you need to do to move beyond it.

No matter how impossible it looks (assuming it doesn’t violate the laws of physics), there is almost a way beyond the noes in your life.

Stopped by reasons

You use reasons to justify or validate your noes. I can’t do this because I’m not good enough, people don’t like me, I’m not adequately skilled, people will think I’m foolish, etc. A reason is a made-up justification to validate a no. The very purpose of reasons is to keep you locked into place. The more reasons you have for why you can’t do what you want to do, the more likely you’ll remain stopped by your no.

Don’t let them tie you down. Look around you. Notice that the people who live small, constrained lives usually have a boatload of reasons why they are where they are.

Don’t live a reasonable life.

Stopped by fear

Fear can stop us dead in our tracks.

Understand that there is nothing wrong with fear. It usually indicates that you are pushing beyond your boundaries. Great, that’s just what you want to be doing.

Fear only becomes a problem if it’s stopping you from living the life you’d like to live. Check these links for a more complete discussion of fear (here and here).

There are two kinds of fear. There is the fear of something outside of you that presents a legitimate threat: someone coming at you with a knife, for example. That’s a good reason to act out of your fear and run like hell.

But most of the time, the fear you feel is the fear of feeling uncomfortable feelings. Feelings that come with rejection, failure, looking foolish, being wrong, and the like. Not one of these feelings is going to land you in the emergency room—yet the fear of feeling them can stop us with more finality than a brick wall.

If you are continually challenging yourself, you will feel fear. It’s how humans are wired. Instead of trying to get rid of your fear, build your courage so you can move through it so it doesn’t stop you.

Living big then means building the courage and fortitude to feel uncomfortable feelings.

Stopped by your “reality”

This is the big one. If you don’t believe that something is possible, you won’t try to make it happen.

I’ve told the story of a client who didn’t think he could be in two different places at the same time. But we all have beliefs that reality is limiting (I’m not good enough, I’m not extroverted enough, people shut me down, etc.)

If you think or believe that your circumstances are overwhelming or unbreachable, you’ve got another reason to give up. Circumstances such as not enough money, a family to feed, concerns about discrimination, fear of angering people, or lack of education are all frequently seen as being insurmountable barriers.

There are the laws of physics, of course, but remember that science and culture and ingenuity have wiped out many “immutable” barriers (manned flight, the four-minute mile, an African-American president).

Don’t take reality—as you understand it—as absolute. Keep your sense of the possible.

Being unstoppable

Take a look at The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith and his son to get an idea of true unstoppability. Remember, you are the most likely reason you are stopped—not your circumstances, not reality, not other people—but you. Bust through your noes and your crippled sense of what’s possible—and live a big, exuberant life.

This is the rule of unstoppability: Go as far as you possibly can—and then take one more step.  

Living big

If you’re ready to blast through your self-made barriers, give me a call today.