Understand the barriers that stop you reaching your potential

Jack Richardson has a degree in psychology and sociology from the Open University. He tells us how we can stop our brains holding us back from opportunity.
Illustration: Matthew Brazier

Big Issue vendors have a wide variety of skills and experience, so we bring you the best of their knowledge each week. Find more vendors and their stories on our vendor map. This week, Jack Richardson in Bristol shares advice based on his degree in psychology and sociology.

I think a lot of us labour under self-imposed barriers. For instance, a lot of people will tell you they were terrible at maths and arithmetic and yet you sit down with them and watch them calculate the weekly budget and they make the numbers dance. But if we’re told we’re not good at something we decide to self-limit and not take risks.

fingers pointing at a girl
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Illustration: Matthew Brazier

Don’t get me wrong – risks with your health and safety are totally different, but a lot of us let our fear of embarrassment and social failure block us from trying new things.

This can result in serious consequences in a person’s life. Say if someone’s had a bad experience with mental health services, there might be things they can do to help themselves. But if the initial experience with the health system is a negative one then it can prevent them from reaching out again to find out what help is out there.

We can all be like this in our own lives so it’s about ignoring the initial negative impulse – or at least not letting it settle.

thoughts crowding round a man
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Illustration: Matthew Brazier

Another example of this is fear of success. Sometimes we have a chance to move forward: a promotion at work, a breakthrough in therapy, trying to stop drinking or drug use. But instead of embracing this opportunity we imagine every possible negative outcome and our fear keeps us in safe, invisible mediocrity instead of grasping our chance.

The most extreme example of this is called the crab bucket mentality, where even a friend or relative bettering themselves becomes a threat. I once watched my stepson proudly tell his grandmother he was going to Leeds University.

Her reply was: “You don’t wanna go away to university, you’re gonna come back thinking you’re better than us.” It took me weeks to restore his confidence.

Recognising and identifying these barriers is the first step in overcoming them. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it’s there.

Jack Richardson sells The Big Issue in Bristol.

To buy a subscription from Jack while he’s unable to sell the magazine on his pitch in Bristol during lockdown click here. Fifty per cent of net proceeds will go directly to Jack.

Interview: Sarah Reid

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