Everyone at any moment has a secret truth. That is, we all have one thing that we implicitly know to be true, and yet we are being held back in life by our failure to admit that truth. It creates a bottleneck in our personal development by keeping us from recognizing our faults. By admitting and accepting those secret truths that hold you back, you can transform yourself and begin to move your life forward. Let me give some examples, most of which come from my own experience.
I grew up in a Christian family. I lived in an area of Ohio that is not hard-core religious, but does lean more to the conservative side. Going through school, I started learning about history, science, and all of the other subjects taught in a public school. I have always had a scientific mind, and as I learned more about subjects like biology, history, and other cultures, I began to see more and more inconsistencies between religion and the real world. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make sense of scientific facts that were clearly true but in conflict with what I was told in church. I asked myself questions about the different religious views throughout history and around the world. For example, if there is one all powerful god, why are there so many religions that can’t even agree on the number of gods, let alone what that god thinks. Why have religions gone extinct throughout history? For the majority of my school career, I grappled with the cognitive dissonance presented by questions like that. Then, at some point in high school, I admitted something to myself: I’m an atheist.
In hindsight, I realize that I knew it for a long time. The very fact that I was asking those questions meant that I didn’t buy into religion, and so many other things outside of religion made more sense. Subjects like evolution did a much better job of explaining the world. My point is that I was an atheist for a long time before I allowed myself to admit that fact. I was heald back by fear. Being held back by the fear of burining in hell, I tried to rationalize my denial of something I secretly knew was true. Ever since admitting that to myself, my life has changed dramatically. The natural world makes more sense when viewed with the acceptance and understanding of evolution. Even topics like foreign policy are more clear when you aren’t biased by religion and you see every religion as equally false. Accepting that one truth was one of the most transformative moments in my life.
But my goal here isn’t to write about religion, so let me give another example.
Admitting that I am an entrepreneur at heart
Growing up in a middle class family, I was taught a lot of the same financial lessons as most people. I was told to get a job, so around the age of 16 I got my first job working in a souvenir shop at an amusement park. I was told to go to college, so I took out a bunch of loans to go to college. I was told to major in something that would give me a good job, so I could make a lot of money, so I could save a lot of money in the usual assortment of stocks, bonds, and 401K’s, so I could retire and live happily ever after. Then reality happened.
It was early 2008, and I was just finishing up my sophomore year in college when the economy crashed. I watched as the retirement savings of an entire generation dried up within what seemed like a few weeks. I realized that the same thing could happen to me if I took the same course in life that was being prescribed to me by the people who just lost their life savings. I knew I had to do something different, and began considering entrepreneurship instead.
I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial side. As a kid, my friend and I started a lemonade stand and made a few dollars. A few years later, while hanging out on the playground with some other friends of mine, we realized that we could make small fortune by simply walking around the playground. You see, recess came right after lunch, so everybody had leftover change in their pockets. As they ran around playing tag and jumping around on the playground, that loose change had a tendency to fall out of their pockets. While everyone else was playing around, my two friends and I just strolled around the playground picking up money. In a 30 minute long recess, we could get $3-4 each, every day. Every few weeks I would use the money to buy a savings bond.
Despite the dabbling in financial pursuits, I never seriously considered starting a business until the crash of 2008. I was planning on going to graduate school and doing something with a degree in biology. In only took a complete economic meltdown for me to wake up and think about some other options. That was when I admitted another secret truth: that I am an entrepreneur at heart.
As I read more about entrepreneurship I realized that it had a lot in common with biology. At its core, biology is the study of systems. That system can be a cell, the human body, or an entire ecosystem, but in the end it is all the same: deconstructing a system to figure out how it works, then using that knowledge to solve problems like disease and environmental destruction. That is a lot like being an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, your goal is to find a problem, make some observations to understand the problem, then build a system to solve the problem.
Once I started seeing entrepreneurship through that lens, I took up even more interest in it. I still finished my degree, but spent all of my free time studying business topics. I also started studying computer programming, knowing that it would be useful to help me find an idea for a product and build it. Now, fast forward about 10 years, and I have a growing business and a little stash of other investments on the side, and I don’t regret skipping graduate school. If I never admitted my secret truth– that I am an entrepreneur at heart– then I would probably be in a lifetime of student loan debt from a graduate degree that may or may not have helped me get a job.
Every time I feel like I am being held back in life, I eventually realize that there some “secret truth” that is holding me back. Somewhere in my life there is something I already know is true and just can’t bring myself to admit it. Exactly what that is isn’t always clear, but when I find it and summon the courage to admit it, it is always followed by a period of radical growth in my life. So if you are stuck in one place, or if you feel like you are not successful, find your secret truth. Figure out what it is that you are afraid to admit to yourself, and face it head on.