Guest Blogpost: Self-Limiting Beliefs, by Mary Carlomagno

Today’s guest post comes from the fabulous Mary Carlomagno, author of several non-fiction—and now fiction—books. I am so grateful for Mary’s inspirational look at the fears that keep us stuck. Thank you, Mary!


Self-Limiting Beliefs

For years, I was afraid to write fiction, letting my insecurity about writing the perfect novel paralyze my efforts. One day while scrolling through Facebook, I saw a meme that spoke to me. It said “Do not let self-limiting beliefs hold you back from achieving your dreams.”

Now, I cannot be sure if this was a quote from a gifted psychologist or some straight talk from my neighbor down the road, because those lovely new graphics on Facebook can make your laundry list look like a pearl of wisdom. Graphics aside, the concept of self-limiting beliefs needed further research and now. Instead of writing my novel, I got to work on defining what exactly was holding me back from writing. I found that self-limiting beliefs are things that you believe about yourself that place limitations on your abilities. And so, I had my definition, I was suffering from Self-Limiting Beliefs or SLB as I have come to call them. Besides self-sabotage and googling about them, I also am fond of acronyms. Acronyms make things seem more real, don’t you think? Almost clinical, really…

Like crash diets, SLBS are usually not based in reality, but that does not mean we don’t believe them. My beliefs derailed my confidence for years and were expressed to me time and time again through a mean little group of people that populated my thoughts. Let’s call them the “the committee in my head,” as many of the other names I have called them are not quite appropriate for a guest blog.  This group had something to say about just about everything.

“Really, those jeans, Mary, you can do better than that,” said my inner stylist.

“So, you think you can write fiction like Steinbeck or Atwood? You must be kidding, sister,” my inner editor chimed in.

Thankfully, my inner child crept out just in time, to protect me from all these bad thoughts. “Perhaps it’s better to just roll up in a fetal ball and binge watch Netflix for the rest of the day,” she said.

Generally, I am a very confident person due to my upbringing in a large Italian American family that, as my mother would say, “didn’t pull any punches.” (I am still not entirely sure what that phrase means.) And writing is not new to me. Books have been a part of my life since I was old enough to have a library card and take out every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on. I even majored in journalism and for years worked in book publishing with some of the best writers writing today.  After leaving book publishing I became an expert at organizing and wrote three best-selling non-fiction books on the topic.

The fact that these books have been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Program, The Today Show and NPR, did not impress the committee. In fact, it made them dig their heels in deeper pointing out that reading is not writing and that writing non-fiction is easier than writing fiction. It’s like apples and oranges, they snipped. Perhaps they had been talking to my family about the sketchy metaphors?

Sketchy metaphors aside, I believed the committee. It was easier to roll up in my comfort zone, a non-risk taking fetal ball watching the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice or any romantic comedy directed by Nancy Myers.   This cycle continued, instead of writing a romantic comedy, I wrote more from my nonfiction comfort zone including topics like “how to kick your shoe addiction” and “ten signs that your husband is a hoarder.” Ironically, I also wrote about procrastination and not letting fear of the unknown hold you back from the life you imagined. Ironic, isn’t it?

“Write what you know!” My committee insisted. Over and over again, they talked me out of writing fiction, believing deeply that, that kind of writing was elite and not something I could do. “After all, what would Tolstoy say if my book was shelved near his?” my inner marketing director asked.

Even though I had proven my ability to change careers, I could not get over the debilitating feeling that I was not worthy of writing fiction, like so many of my heroes.

The realization that I counsel my clients every day to do push their limits was not lost on me. That metaphor about the shoemaker’s daughter having no shoes, is pretty appropriate, because my grandfather was a shoemaker. But it must have skipped a generation as my addiction to shoes could populate ten more blog posts… but I digress: It was time to start taking my own advice, to get organized. On my way to work with a new client in lower Manhattan, I made my decision. No longer would I manage my anxiety about writing the novel. I would simply write the novel. I was believing the advice of my inner organizer now! My new client had hired me to catalogue all his writing, his rejection letters, unfinished short stories, article pitches and even his completed novel which he never shared with anyone.

Like Freud and I always say, there are no coincidences, so I took this as a sign from the universe to stop managing my emotions and those of my inner committee and to simply engage in the unknown. That summer, I began to write, rewrite, tweak and edit. Two more years of tweaking, and editing soon lead to pitching until I found the perfect publisher: Best Friend for Hire was published this June. In many ways, it is the culmination of all my life experiences—and like any good fiction, is more real than anything else I have ever written. And you know what? I am pretty sure Tolstoy would enjoy it.

Here are my best organizing tips overcome self-limiting beliefs:

1. Start. It does not matter where you begin, just engage in the process.

2. Dismiss judgment. Let go of the notion of “perfect,” and embrace perfect for you, right now.

3. Release the outcome. Do not think about the finish line, but the actual race. Focus on smaller achievable steps.

4. Setbacks happen to good people. Understand that you may have to take a few steps back to make some larger leaps forward.

5. Do not wait for perfect conditions to begin. They do not exist. There is no ideal condition that will enable the process.

6. Create situations that support you, whether that is a writing group, reliable friend or family member that understands and supports what you are doing. You don’t have to go it alone.



Want to win a signed copy of Best Friend For Hire? Like Mary’s Facebook page and share what the title of your favorite book and tell us why you love it. One winner will be selected to receive a signed copy of Best Friend for Hire !


To check out Mary’s other books, go here.



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