There’s something you and I have been trained to do from a young age that keeps us out of trouble.

We’re taught from childhood that we have to get permission from others to do what we want to do. Like asking your parents if you can eat candy before dinner or raising your hand for permission to speak in the classroom.

Then as we grow up, it’s asking permission from a parent to borrow the car, from your boss to take vacation time, and from a government to enter their country.

And as managers and leaders, we can feel good about giving permission to a team member who requests a day off or saying “yes” when they ask you to fund their travel to a conference.

This form of socialization is mostly a good thing. It’s all part of behaving in a way that makes us fit in and be successful in the world.

But even “good things” can have downsides, especially when taken to extremes.

While some of these permissions are important, many are social norms or habits that no longer serve you. Some will even hold you back from the life and career you want.

The Problem with the Permission Habit

The problem comes when permission becomes a habit or even a state of mind.

It’s like grown elephants who are kept in their place by the same skinny rope tied to a small wooden stake as when they were baby elephants. Even though they have the strength to break free, the years of conditioning have created a state of mind that keeps them tied down to where they are.

Similarly, when you get used to needing permission to do something different than the normal routine, you’ll tend to wait for others to grant it before venturing forward and pushing your own agenda. This makes you less leader-like and it keeps you playing small, staying in your box and being just like everyone else.

And that puts you and your career at risk.

Stop Waiting for Permission

As an example from my career, I rarely spoke up in internal meetings unless someone asked me a direct question. This was not a great strategy for showing up as a leader and looking back, I can see it was part of what kept me from getting a key promotion.

Other times, I held myself back because I didn’t think I was “allowed” to do that thing. Like missing the chance to meet important people for my career because I felt I needed permission to walk up to them at a reception. Instead, I could have given myself permission to introduce myself.

For you, the permission habit will show up differently. The key is to examine what unnecessary permissions you’re waiting for and how this could be holding you back from the life you cherish.

Give Yourself Permission

Take my client Amy (not her real name). Her dyslexia makes it a struggle to write briefing emails summarizing the status of a project. What takes a colleague 45 minutes to write would take her 4 hours, and she’d much rather talk to people face-to-face which she shines at.

But now that she’s become department head, she’s worried she’ll have to write the executive committee briefings herself. She was bracing herself to make that herculean effort to improve on that front.

But trying to become better at writing those summary emails is a poor use of her precious time and energy. There’s only so much she can improve and the effort of trying would make her miserable and therefore less effective at her new role.

Instead, Amy has given herself permission to never again write a briefing email. She’ll either speak it (in person or into a dictation app) or have someone else write it – someone who’s really good at this. You’ll get better results by leveraging your strengths rather than improving your weaknesses.

As someone once said to me, “why ask a turtle to climb a tree when you can get a squirrel to do it instead?”

What Permissions Do You Need?

Think about the areas in your career and life where there’s something holding you back or you feel stuck. What kind of permissions have you been waiting for and which ones could you give yourself?

Maybe it’s permission to do something, like invest in yourself or a cause you care about. Perhaps it’s permission to be a certain way, such as being imperfect? Or permission to change something, whether that’s a habit that no longer serves you or the place you live.

Some other permissions I’ve given myself are permission to:

  • Stop judging myself
  • Start appreciating what I do well
  • Start embracing fear as my friend (more on that in a future post)
  • Think big and dare to go for it – all of it!
  • Feel good about myself
  • Accept help from others
  • Say what I think
  • Believe in myself

What would help you in your life if you were to give yourself permission to do, think or be it?

Break the Permission Habit

It’s easy to fall into the habit of waiting for permission we don’t need. After all, it’s part of the way we’re brought up and socialized.

We’re creatures of habit, just like animals who’ve been kept in a cage for so long that they don’t come out even when the cage door is left open.

The key is to recognize when you’ve fallen into the “permission habit” so you can choose to do something about it.

So, what about you?

What permissions do you need to give yourself so you can be free to be your best self, enjoy every day and make your difference in the world?

Leave me a comment and let me know.