How does your mentality limit your dreams? How does mine?

This is me at 12.  I already had such a limiting world-view - even at such a young age.  How did that happen?

This is me at 12. I already had such a limiting world-view – even at such a young age. How did that happen?

A few posts ago, I was ranting on about a “mentality” that I believe that so many of us live with (perhaps without even realising it).

Since I’m clearly not doing a very good job at explaining what I mean by a middle-class-mentality (and, thus, reaping some online wrath)… I shall try to explain with a story.  (I love stories).

A couple of years ago, Oprah (on her show) mentioned the story of a homeless man who had been deliberately given a suitcase containing $100,000 cash.  A couple of producers were curious to understand whether the man was homeless – because he genuinely couldn’t find work… or had no way of escaping his sad life… OR… whether he was homeless because he was somehow self-sabotaging.

Here’s the first clip of the doccie:

Long story short:  he was self-sabotaging.  He very quickly blew all of that money on strange and superfluous stuff… and was soon as broke as ever – and living on the streets again (and, interestingly, blaming everyone else for his hard-knock life).

I found that story fascinating.

So many of us watching that documentary – were slapping our foreheads in frustration whenever the man blew yet another disproportionate sum of money on something that just didn’t make any sense!  

“He’s wasting it!’, we’d yell at the TV screen.

“He could have used that money to buy a ____ which would, in turn, help him to _____.  Why can’t he see or understand the error of his ways?”

“If I had $100,000 – I could have completely turned my life around!”


Fast forward to a few years later… when I had somebody working for me (let’s call her Betty).

Betty came from a very poverty-poor background.  Poor as in:  eating from dustbins as a kid.  Poor as in:  only having a single pair of worn-out, too-small shoes as a teenager.  Poor as in:  starvation.   Poor as in:  couldn’t afford to attend school.

Me… with my comfy middle-class life – cannot possibly appreciate or understand the kind of awful life Betty has had to endure.

But still…  Betty was amazing!

All I saw in her was incredible potential…  I saw talent… I saw strength… I saw somebody who had so much to offer the world.

Problem is – Betty didn’t see herself that way – at all.

She often told me that she was “doomed” to be poor all her life…  that it was simply her destiny.  That everyone in her family was dirt poor – so why should she think “higher” of herself – or imagine that she could escape the destiny of poverty and suffering that awaited her.

I cannot begin to tell you how much her words frustrated me.

I could see SO MUCH in Betty – why couldn’t she see it for herself?


A couple of years later, after Betty had expressed an interest in starting up her own business… we decided to do everything in our power to help her follow her dream.  A long story short… she left our employ with a car we had given her… a large load of other household items & stuff that she needed for her family and her business… and a very significant amount of cash.

I was excited for her.  I knew she had the capacity to run her own little food stall… I knew she was a hard-worker… I knew that she and her brother made great food…. I knew there was a gap in the market… I knew that – even if the food stall took a while to “lift off” – that she could use the car as a resource to earn money (a lot of people pay for lifts and for loads).

We waved Betty goodbye with a smile – and a strong belief in her capabilities.


Less than 3 months later, Betty was back at our door.  Completely broke.  She had even sold the car (for a piddly amount of money). When I asked her:  “What happened with all the resources and the cash you had?” – she told me what she had done with it all… and – just like the Oprah documentary – I just cringed with frustration at her poor choices.

Betty was a walking self-fulfilling-prophecy.  So convinced was she that “nothing in my life will ever succeed” – and “to suffer is my destiny”… that she had, in a sense, proven herself right.

It wasn’t Betty’s talent… intelligence… or abilities that failed her… it was her limiting mentality!  SHE was her own worst enemy.


Again – I found myself pondering and puzzling and chewing on the whole frustrating course of events.

“Why can’t she just SEE?” I wondered.

And then the thought struck me:  “I wonder how similar I am to Betty – perhaps in other ways?  I wonder how much I am also self-sabotaging my own life?  I wonder how much my own limiting mentality is damaging me – or my life?  I wonder how much potential and opportunity is out there that I also don’t see or recognise”

Now – THAT was food for thought…

And then I began to wonder about all the conversations I had had with friends (from a similar “class” or background as me) – everyone grumbling about the same old things:  Sucky jobs… poor salaries… too many bills at the end of the month… frustrating daily routines… not enough quality time with our loved ones… lots of struggle with seemingly little reward… and so on and so on…

And I thought:  I wonder if other folk – who are living very different lives to us (i.e.: following their dreams, very fulfilled and happy – and financially well-off) – are perhaps looking at what we do… and how we live… and also slapping their foreheads in frustration and saying:  “Why can’t they just SEE?”


Nick and I often used to lament about how we just can’t seem to “get ahead”…

There always seemed to be something tripping us up… holding us backing… pulling us down…

And now, I wonder whether that “something” was simply “us”… and that, much like Betty, we have ALSO been infected by this… limiting mentality… (thanks, in part, to our up-bringing, our class and the society we live in – and the messages we have been “taught” and “told” our whole lives).

Betty was “taught” to believe that she was nothing… that she was worthless… that she would always be poor… that – like her extended family – she would always suffer.

I was “taught” to believe that I shouldn’t dream TOO big… or get above my “station” in life.  I was “taught” that I should be happy and content with a job (no matter how shitty), a house in the ‘burbs (no matter how much debt it got me in to), a marriage (no matter how miserable)… kids… a car… a retirement annuity and an annual holiday in Durban.  And if you dream of more than this – or if you dream of a life completely different to this… then there’s something wrong with you, and you need to be brought down a notch-or-two.

I was “taught” that status, nice homes and new cars were things that I should ‘want’ and strive for.  I was “taught” that debt wasn’t such a bad thing.  I was “taught” that – as a woman – my appearance (and my weight) is vitally important – and that I should be constantly striving to better what I looked like.

And I was “taught” that people are different… that “we” don’t mix with “those” people (on the other side of the hill).  I was “taught” about exclusivity… about cliques… about fear of the “other”.

Everything that I was “taught” came from – predominantly – the following:  the society I was raised in (in my case, middle-class Benoni)… the schools I was taught in… the culture I was surrounded with… the churches I attended… and the people (family, friends and peers) that I spent the most time with.

Same was true, by the way, for Betty.  She was “taught” her particular mentality from similar sources:  society / culture / school / church / and the people she spent the most time with.

By the way – I’m not saying that everything I was “taught” is all bad and rotten to the core.

I learned a number of really GREAT lessons – from those very same sources!  But I also absorbed a fair amount of crappy stuff… that has – annoyingly – *stuck*… like a piece of old chewing gum – in my hair – and, it seems like the only way to get it out is to actually cut the hair….

You hear what I’m saying?

Please say yes.  I’m feeling a bit run-over and misunderstood today.

So – QUESTION to everyone out there:  what have YOU been “taught” by your culture / religion / class / community / school and the people you spent the most time with?  (Doesn’t have to be the negative stuff… I’d love to hear some positive stories too!).  Reply to this post… facebook me… or e-mail me… with your thoughts.

*hugs to all*


11 thoughts on “How does your mentality limit your dreams? How does mine?

  1. This is much better than the rant about Benoni! Well done Heather. Knowledge and choice – perhaps the two most important aspects of growing up (ie gaining wisdom and attaining an expansive life) rather than growing old ( ie exploring nothing but the walls of our own rut). Knowledge – for better or worse we are formed, in childhood, by family, religion and class. Choice – an underused freedom of adulthood – three in this case, remain limited by that formed mentality; or fight against it without actually breaking free of it; or embrace it for what it is and who it made you, take the good, drop the bad, find and implement characteristics of the way you want to live.

    • Nice one, Bridget! I think it takes some of us longer than others to wake up to the fact that we ARE in a rut. I think I was blind to it for years. But once you realise it… and really start desiring that “expansive life” – then you can start to embrace CHOICE. And I love how you described it as an “underused freedom of adulthood”. Sooooo true! Thanks for writing! X

  2. Thanx to your Benoni-Bashing and lashing yesterday , i am following your blog!
    Everything has everything to do with our level of awareness!!Are you aware how much work and discipline and dedication it takes to make $ 100,000? and again to make it more or stretch it to
    last forever?Similarly for all the hours of dedication and tenacity that olympic athletes put in to get their superhuman condition.The same for a highly competent singer,dancer.entertainer,artist,doctor….and the list goes on.Bottomline is , some souls take longer…maybe even lifetimes longer to reach an awareness that elevates them from their misery….

    • Interesting food for thought, Mielies. I haven’t thought about it that way before… “it takes some people a lifetime to reach an awareness that elevates them from their misery” – Hmmmm. I think I’m going to chew on that thought for a good couple of days. Thanks for responding! x

  3. My story not so fainting as those you your writings. I’ve spent years over coming the poverty mindset .went to Hawaii with friends who out us up in their most beautiful place everything perfect.the following year we were invited again.or should I say, hubby invited himself.this time we reluctantly went feeling we had imposed, and we did unbeniced to hubby he still enjoyed the free ride with our dear friends.they had a washing machine go out., all I could think about was their complains of delivery being past due interrupting the I boat time.couldnt wrap my mind around.what if? There was no eager dryer ever…comming? What if? Their regular trips to Hawaii were once in a lifetime like so many? What if all those that worked at the Hilton and road two hour bus to work and not be seen were them. They r lovely people, but couldn’t get a grip and enjoy myself knowing all those friends of mine more like me, once in a lifer.

  4. More from me.and yet I was the dumb one in school staring our the window in trouble for being bored in regular classroom sitting.failing.too quiet to speak up and say I don’t get the the one that was left behind.noone noticed.does NY one even want to know?

  5. U hallarious ly yet irritated ly refer to those of us who make remarks about south Africa as a small place.when I was in school I thought geographer was about coloring the states failed again of 54stll learning to read a map.i pretended to understand nodding for years to avoid snide remarks to never ask a dumb question again.but I learned alot by your funny way of explaining it.u did it just right.i love the sort of sarcasm I get it.its like your talking to yourself and us at the same time.i learnt by pictures, colors, watching people, the people in one of your stories like would love to go rhete, I think I would feel safe with poverty and all those strong woman survivers.

    • Thank you, Yvette! I’m so glad that you have connected with my stories – and that you’ve been enjoying the process of learning through pictures, colours and watching people (I learn that way too!). I’m sorry that people made snide remarks and that you were dissuaded from asking questions. I don’t believe there IS such a thing as a *dumb* question (only dumb answers). Thanks for writing! 🙂

      • Wow, thank u heather for your reply it’s nice to be heard, I will continue to follow and share your stories, they are beautifully written, enjoy your journey

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