What’s holding you back from achieving real, lasting success? Are you plagued by self-doubt or fear? It could be the beliefs you hold about yourself and your career that are limiting your potential.
Kelly Ruta helps entrepreneurs uncover and address the scarcity thinking that impedes many of them from reaching their personal and professional potential. Ruta, a psychotherapist turned speaker and coach, specializes in mindset disruption, a process that helps people move past impediments to achieve what they define as happiness and success.
The first qualifiers Ruta wants people to understand is that fears, self-doubt, and limiting beliefs are natural, and they stay with us regardless of our perceived level of success. “These things are part of the normal experience for business and life at every level,” says Ruta. “People think that once I get to a certain level, these things will go away. Not true. Thinking that way sets people up for a struggle. The way these feelings show up might change, but it never goes away.”
In fact, says Ruta, the fear and self-doubt are amplified every time we reach for a new level in work or life. Advancing to a new level means we’re stretching outside our comfort zone. When that happens, the ego immediately pipes up to tell us to stay where we are because the status quo is survivable. Moving beyond that status quo goes against fundamental human psychology. It’s difficult, and that’s OK.
Ruta explains that the reason even intelligent, experienced, educated people get frustrated by their feelings of fear and self-doubt is because the conscious mind and unconscious mind have different jobs and speak different languages.
Consciously, you might feel that since you’re several years into your career, you know what you’re doing, and you’ve got everything under control. Yet you still find yourself struggling with fear and insecurity. That’s because the unconscious mind is in control.
The conscious mind is only in charge of about 5% of what we experience every day, says Ruta. The unconscious mind, by contrast, is where our belief programming exists. Anything we experience over and over goes into this belief programming, especially when we’re very young. “That’s why our conscious and unconscious minds aren’t always on the same page or even in the same book,” says Ruta.
There’s a psychological system in place that creates feelings of self-doubt and fear. Our brain creates neural pathways that make it easy to have these self-limiting beliefs. The conscious mind can override this system, but it’s exhausting and doesn’t work all the time. The better solution is to change our underlying belief programming.
The way to change our programming, says Ruta, is to increase self-awareness. To figure out what’s going on in the unconscious, take a look at patterns in your life and career where things aren’t working. Those patterns of dysfunction show what’s been unconsciously programmed into your thought processes. “Take a step back and look at where you have continuously tripped up, pulled the rug out from under yourself,” says Ruta. “Look at the things you avoid even though you know better. That offers a great look into your unconscious mind.”
Ruta gives the example of ambitious businesswomen who are plagued by fears of their own success. This fear doesn’t make sense to them because they think they want to advance their careers, make more money, earn more status. “But they are petrified because they think success is an ‘or’ situation,” says Ruta. “For example, I can either be a successful business person or a good mother. I can either be a successful CEO or have good values. When you’re given only two options, you’re going to defer to the one that feels more natural based on your belief programming. It’s not a matter of what you think, it’s a matter of what’s programmed in.”
Your brain needs time to rewire itself, says Ruta. The way the unconscious mind gets reprogrammed is through repetition, consistency, and the language of image and emotion. Ruta runs a nine-month program to help support and guide people through the process, but whether you opt for a formal program like hers or work more informally with a mentor, the key is to get support and foster accountability.
“Science has shown us that these beliefs get programmed in by experiencing something repeatedly,” says Ruta. Changing your beliefs requires consistent work with imagery and emotion over a period of time (typically months) to reprogram those beliefs. This is the fundamental process that leads to a new set of habits. The beliefs need to change first, then the behavior can change.
Determining your why doesn’t need to be a big, soul-searching, complicated process. Instead, it should be the simple building block for everything you do professionally.
“People don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so they don’t make their why bigger than their excuses,” says Ruta. However, it’s important to slow down and understand why you’re doing the work you’re doing because if that’s not a big enough reason for you, then you’re never going to invest the time and resources into changing your beliefs.
Determining your why doesn’t need to be a big, soul-searching, complicated process. Instead, it should be the simple building block for everything you do professionally. “Your why is simple,” says Ruta. “First, figure out what your unique gifts are, then share them with the world. You’re done.”
Slow down and get back to the truth of why you want to do what you do. Are you motivated by money? Are you inspired to create art? Do you love working with people? “It’s going to be different for everyone,” says Ruta. “You get to decide, but you have to be honest. Work is going to be an uphill battle a lot of the time, but if you don’t align it with what you care about, it makes things much more difficult.”
To initiate this process, identify what some coaches have called the “zone of genius.” What are the things you do that make the time fly by? What are things that drive the majority of results for your business? Identify those activities and then scale your business around them. Focus on what you do well and what you love, and have other people execute the things you’re not good at and don’t like doing. That’s how you free yourself up to do your best work.
You have to slow down to speed up, says Ruta. Create some white space on your calendar, back things up, and answer the question: What do I truly desire by turning my love of photography into a business?
Money, yes, but what else? It’s not enough to say “I want to get paid for what I love.” That’s too broad. Focus more closely. Why do you want your art out in the world? Why did you choose your niche? Who are the people you want to work with?
To pull it all together, consider what needs to shift in your thinking and in how you conduct your work. That’s where the process starts to pay dividends. But you have to allow yourself that shot at happiness and success.
“Give yourself permission to own your dream,” says Ruta. “Lean into it, and don’t pay any attention to what the person next to you is doing.”
Then you can create your own brand of success.
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.
It's easy to respond to difficulties by playing the fairness card. What if we looked to answer with our hearts, instead?