Unless you know the hidden meaning of the esoteric symbols that reveal a deeper meaning to world mythology, symbolism is a somewhat blunter self-development tool.
And that brings me to the focus of this article; I want to explain the important difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism. Knowing the difference can make a huge difference in how you interpret the meaning and apply it to your life.
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Esoteric meanings are available in the public domain but they are scattered around in multiple sources and take years to piece together. Moreover, alchemical books typically use symbolism to explain the symbolism, thus they don’t reveal the whole Truth.
Let me give you an example using the passage below:
“The life of mercury is nothing else but the internal heat, and external coldness, i.e. it makes the internal part of its body hot and the outward part cold, and therefore might be compared to a garment made of skins.”
~ Michael Sendivogius, Of The Nature Of Things
Well, good luck making sense of that!
To understand the explanation above, firstly you need to understand the esoteric meaning of mercury, hot and cold in alchemical symbolism.
Mercury – also known as quicksilver – relates to how you apply your mind or the “world of the psyche”. It refers to how you use intelligence and your personal aptitude to do “the work”.
“Heat is electrical energy and corresponds with the left side of the brain (analytical thinking, logic,) and magnetic energy corresponds with the right side of the brain (creative, imagination)…
~ Dr A. S. Raleigh Hermetic Science of Motion and Number
The dividing line between heat and cold is, therefore, the point at which electric impulses become magnetism. Magnetism is the bonding process, the vibrations of energy that connect the inner world with outer experience. Magnetism is determined by thoughts, emotions and actions and vibrations are influenced by whether you operate from a positive, love-based centre or a negative, fear-based centre.
Decoding esoteric wisdom is like an Ikea wardrobe. You have to unpack it and assemble the pieces by following the images and instructions.
I’ve been piecing the snippets of esoteric wisdom together since 2012. Because of the amount of exoteric symbolism available in the public domain, my initiation into symbolism was a slow start. What I mostly found was YouTube videos connecting religious symbolism to the movement of the planets.
Whilst this information was all very interesting, the explanations didn’t quite fit right. I couldn’t fathom why ancient builders had gone to so much effort to build cosmology into their settlements and architectural structures simply to acknowledge the movement of the planets.
As it turns out, the planets and cosmology theories are merely a smokescreen you have to go beyond to find a deeper meaning. You’ll find that mainstream astrology is not esoteric either. And I’m not talking about the horoscopes you find in the newspaper, I’m talking about astrologers who draft birth charts and offer “predictions” for your life.
It has to be said, that these predictions can have their benefits – but only if you believe the predictions to be true and apply the appropriate actions. Predictions, therefore, become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Relating symbolism to the movement of the planets and stars also raised another question. If our ancient ancestors were knowledgeable enough to understand outer space and have the mathematical and technical skills to accurately align temples with constellations, what else did they know?
I was convinced that world symbolism had a far greater importance than mapping the heavens. I asked myself, what is most important to mankind?
As I meditated on this question, my epiphany came.
And this is another difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism. The latter doesn’t typically delve deep enough into the true meanings. In esoteric symbolism, there is symbolism behind the exoteric symbolism. Esoteric symbolism means hidden.
Once I realised the relationship between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism and related this to myth and the human psyche, the secrets of esoteric wisdom started to be revealed to me. I was eventually able to work out the esoteric meanings by using the exoteric interpretations.
But only once relevant information had come to my conscious awareness. During my research I was consistently guided to what I needed to know next. But because I took on information, and then asked, okay but what happens next. What or why is such and such?
I was guided to the likes of Carl Jung, Manly P. Hall, Israel Regadie, Edward Edinger and Marie-Louise von Franz, Rupert Sheldrake, Sebastian Grof and many others, all of which enabled me to imagine the relationships between out inner world and the external world.
Once I was on the right path and learned to observe the differences between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism and used the information to my advantage. I discovered that frontier sciences help to reveal a deeper meaning of mythology. Not only psychology but neurobiology, quantum physics, epigenetics, physiology, systems theory and various bits of scientific exploration of consciousness.
So just a bit of light reading.
By collecting all the pieces, I was able to develop a powerful self-development tool you can use to transform your life. Understanding the esoteric meaning of symbols and numbers can play a massive role in your decision-making, relationships, career, emotional well-being, state of mind and more.
That said, adopting eSoteric symbolism as a self-development tool comes with a caveat:
Be careful not to get sucked into the eXoteric meaning of symbols.
To understand why you need to know the difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism, just look at the definitions for the words given by various dictionaries.
The official definition of exoteric in the Cambridge Dictionary is that it is: “intended or suitable for people generally, not only for some people”.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides a two-tier response: (1) “suitable to be imparted to the public” and (2) “belonging to the outer or less initiate circle.”
In other words, the general public is considered the outer or less initiated member of society and are not privy to the secrets hidden behind esoteric symbolism.
Wikipedia (don’t laugh) actually gives a pretty good summing up of the difference between esoteric symbolism and exoteric symbolism.
“The word [exoteric] is derived from the comparative form of Greek ἔξω eksô, “from, out of, outside”. It signifies anything which is public, without limits, or universal. It is distinguished from internal esoteric knowledge. “Exoteric” relates to external reality as opposed to a person’s thoughts or feelings. It is the knowledge that is public as opposed to secret or cabalistic. It is not required that exoteric knowledge come easily or automatically, but it should be referenceable or reproducible.”
So you can see from the definition that the meaning of exoteric symbolism should offer just enough value to make it sound believable, but the real meaning is hidden.
And when you recognise there is a subtle difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism this is precisely what you find!
Whilst the meanings given for exoteric symbolism are not wrong, they are misleading.
And that is why you need to know the difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism.
Earlier investigators also noted this distinction: The esoteric astrologer and theosophist, Alan Leo writes:
“…the main difference between Esoteric and Exoteric Astrology, [is that] the former is concerned with man’s actions within and with the power to harmonise himself with nature’s laws, and the latter with man’s impulses prompted by the attraction that are without;”
~ Alan Leo, Esoteric Astrology
So what does Leo mean with regard to actions within and attractions without?
Esoteric symbolism describes which energies you are projecting from within – your inner world – into the outside world. This projection is how you create your experiences of life.
If you apply esoteric symbolism, you can identify these archetypal energies that are influencing your energies and thus your decision-making, and thus your experiences. Esoteric symbolism guides you to resolve problems that arise in your life. It brings unconscious content into the light of the conscious mind and prompts you to make relevant changes that integrate unexpressed aspects of your personality and improve your life.
By Without, Leo means exoteric symbolism focuses on the outside world. For example, a symbol will give you an idea of how you can fix a problem you are experiencing in your life, or maybe give you confidence ahead of a new job or relationship. You literally take the generic advice of somebody from the external world rather than applying the meaning of the symbol to yourself at that precise moment.
Can this approach work?
Of course, it can. But unless you look at the patterns of energy you are projecting and observe the emergent archetype that is influencing your experiences, there is more scope for making a wrong decision. Exoteric interpretations are more of a lottery.
So let me give a typical example of an exoteric statement that you will typically find in astrology – it’s this type of description that Alan Leo says directs your attention to the material world:
“Libra is the sign of relationships and therefore represents both the deeper and material aspects of our most intimate relationships. It is about the things that are shared with others such as resources, assets, money, and values.”
This description prompts you to look at your relationships with the external world; resources, assets, money, and values you share with others. But from an esoteric standpoint, Libra relates to the harmony between the self and the ego. There is a need to have the right relationship with oneself, which also involves how you treat yourself, how you talk to yourself and how you respect yourself.
The archetypes I associate with Libra are the Creator (character building), Caretaker (self-respect), Lover (self-restraint and forging healthy bonds with the external world) and the Trickster (ego development or getting caught in the traps of illusion).
The other issue with exoteric interpretation is that you can become fixated on an issue that is happening to you on this one occasion. But until you transform your subconscious program, you will continue to have similar issues. Because until you fully transform a particular energy, the remnants of information the energy stores continue to influence your life. The only way to totally transform the energy that has roots in a fear-based centre is to be aware of its existence and the experiences it causes in your life.
Unless you adapt your behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions or whatever it is you need to change, you will continue to encounter problematic situations. Wisdom frees you from challenges.
Wisdom is the key difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism.
Let me give you an analogy. If you only have a few pieces of the jigsaw, do you see the whole picture?
No, you don’t.
If you’ve read any websites that promulgate exoteric interpretations of symbols – such as angel numbers and Christian websites – you will probably intuitively feel they are watered down. You will certainly find that they offer potential situations you might be experiencing.
Whilst these guesses may occasionally resonate with you, the writer is actually clutching at straws. The suggestions won’t resonate with everybody so don’t be surprised to find that sometimes you find answers that are relevant to you and sometime you don’t.
But let’s be fair. Exoteric symbolism does give you something to work with. But when they provide many options, you’re none the wiser. You’re left guessing what a particular symbol could possibly mean for you.
Exoteric interpretations of symbols are not useful when you’re searching for answers. Moreover, there’s a good chance, they’ll send you down the wrong path because most of us lean towards the most positive meaning and grab hold of that.
You may ask why the general public is given misleading information. I’m sure you can smell a conspiracy theory brewing here and you don’t believe in all that secret society nonsense.
Yet it only takes a little research to learn that secret societies have levels known as degrees. When you’re deemed ready to move up to the next degree, you’re exposed to more information which takes you deeper in your understanding.
The same is true of the education system which you (aspirationally) earn a degree.
Moreover, symbolism pops up all over the place; films, pop music videos, Disney, political campaigns, sports events, corporate logos etc.
Because it has a meaning. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung believed the unconscious communities to us using a language of symbolic images in an attempt to bring unconscious content into the light of the conscious mind.
“How the harmonising of conscious and unconscious data is to be undertaken cannot be indicated in the form of a recipe. It is an irrational life-process which expresses itself in definite symbols. In this case, knowledge of the symbols in indispensable, for it is in them that the union of conscious and unconscious contents is consummated.Out of this union emerge new situation and new conscious attitudes.”
~ Carl Jung, CW9 Part 1, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 2nd ed (1968)
The truth of the matter is that the “inner circle” – the descendants of the families that became rulers in the distant past – can only live a lavish lifestyle if the rest of us pay for it. So they have to control us which they do by filtering down misleading information.
Again this sounds like a conspiracy theory but if you listen to qualified professionals in the fields and medicine, nutrition, psychology and various sciences, the majority of them claim what they are taught in institutional education is wrong and the messages being pushed is old dogma that most scholars are too blind to see.
“The idea that genes control biology is a supposition, which has never been proven and, in fact, has been undermined by the latest scientific research Kindle.”
~ Bruce Lipton, Biology of Belief
“It is now clear that these ancient practices (to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness) were neither pathological phenomena nor the product of primitive superstition; rather, they were legitimate and highly sophisticated spiritual practices that acknowledged and paid homage to a much broader view of consciousness that has been held by those who adhere to the Newtonian-Cartesian model of reality.”
~ Stanislav Grof, The Holotropic Universe
“The generally accepted models of reality, often called paradigms, embody assumptions that are more or less taken for granted and which easily become habitual”.
~ Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past
“The dishonest biological excuses for our behaviour [should] be exposed for the lies they are.”
~ Jeremy Griffith, Freedom: The End of the Human Condition
Frontier sciences and independent researchers are busting conventional wisdom pushed through educational institutions, industry journals and media outlets all the time. What we see in these drip-down systems is the same principle as esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism.
So if you want to use symbolism to help you make decisions with confidence, learn the information that esoteric symbolism reveals; the psychobiological system and our energetic connection to the universe.
This is why it’s important to have some understanding of psychology, epigenetics, neuroscience, quantum physics and consciousness. Fortunately, you don’t have to research all these things. I’ve done that for you and explain what you need to know in the Beginner’s Guide To Symbolism.
If modern man understood how consciousness works, we would all be enlightened, self-governing and harmonious. Without the need for authority and structure, the rulers would not have any power or control over us. Nor would they have an abundance of wealth.
In this coming section, I’ve listed some examples of how esoteric wisdom differs from exoteric symbolism.
I could use a number of examples here, but I chose to explain the symbolic meaning of dolphins because dolphins have quite a varied list of references which demonstrates how many of them tie. It’s also a good example to illustrate how a little bit of abstract thinking enables you to fathom how ancient sages developed their ingenious systems of esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism.
We learn from exoteric sources that the symbolic meaning of dolphins relates to guidance, protection, peace, prosperity, communication, intelligence, freedom, romance, transformation (death and rebirth), and psychic abilities.
So let’s take a look at the hidden meaning behind these taglines versus the definition promulgated by “authorities” (i.e religions, scholars, and other so-called experts).
We’ll start with romance and communication. Although the exoteric interpretation would have you believe that romance and communication are different, they basically allude to the same thing in esoteric symbolism; the uniting of unconscious content with the conscious mind. The so-called alchemical wedding.
When you see an exoteric source mention “communication” it’s usually in relation to an animal or plant that can transcend water and land and survive in either.
Water, particularly the sea, is a universal symbol for the “unconscious” but actually relates to subconscious program. All rivers that flow from the mountain — the Self — flow into the sea. Earth is analogous to physical reality. So what creates your experiences of reality?
Romance and communication?
Noooo, they are merely external factors that you have to engage with and manage.
Subconscious programs create your reality because they prompt how you think, feel and act.
“Your subconscious mind behaves to the nature of your thoughts. You think with your conscious mind, and whatever you habitually think sinks down into your subconscious mind, which then creates according to the nature of your thoughts. Your subconscious mind is the seat of your emotions. It is the creative mind.”
~ Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
To fully understand esoteric wisdom, you also need to know the difference between the subconscious and the unconscious mind. Although they are generally treated as the same entity, they perform different functions.
But for the purpose of this article, I will tell you that the “subconscious” could otherwise be called the habitual mind. The unconscious is where “unlived” aspects of your personality reside; what we are calling at Master Mind Content, the Superconscious.
In Greek mythology, Hermes is associated with communication because he is the only Olympian who freely traverses the three worlds. Hermes is known as ‘the messenger of the gods’ because he accompanies souls to and from the Underworld and delivers messages sent by various gods.
In other words, Hermes is the carrier of information as expressed by his symbol the Caduceus; the symbolic representation of ida and pingala travelling up and down the spine.
When you see an exoteric source referencing “romance” you could be led to believe that you’re going to find love in your life or reignite passion in your existing relationship. Because that’s what most people want to hear, that’s what you will probably believe.
It may be true for some people on a handful of occasions. But there are loads of symbols that relate to romance that you will see regularly. So in general, to reference an actual love interest is a sweeping statement that won’t apply to everybody all of the time – which makes it a misleading statement and will probably not bring you to the point of understanding you need.
I’ll say it again, exoteric symbolism is misleading. Learn the difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism.
As a result of such misleading information, anybody dipping their toes into the sea of symbolism gives up because they are led to believe it’s a load of old cobblers (British slang for nonsense).
The symbolism courses at Master Mind Content reveal the deeper meanings hidden behind esoteric symbolism so that you can genuinely use the synchronicity of symbols and numbers in mythology to work for you on a deeper level.
That’s not to say that esoteric symbolism reveals the Truth immediately all the time either. Sometimes information comes to us in dribs and drabs, so don’t let me mislead you either.
But because esoteric symbolism prompts you to examine your thoughts, actions and emotions and directly relate them to your current experience, you are at least treading the right path. When you’re on the right path, you will come across the various signposts you need to reach your destination (of self-realisation). So at least head off in the right direction.
As you learn more about the difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism and how they relate to you, it becomes easier to identify the missing aspect of your personality that is trying to make itself unknown.
To help you do this, I have compiled a list of archetypes which reveal the patterns of human nature and have assigned each archetype to the Olympian gods of Greek mythology. The gods all have a significant meaning which can help you to evolve faster.
There will also be times when you have to piece several symbols together before the entire Truth is revealed. And sometimes it can take several weeks or months before you reach the point of self-realisation. Other times it will take days and when you are proficient, your understanding will be instantaneous.
But getting there, in the end, is better than not getting there at all. And unless you know the difference between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism, the chances are that individuation will take even longer.
Let’s take a look.
We are told by exoteric sources that dolphins are a symbol of transformation. The general conclusion is that when dolphins appear to you in dreams, or through synchronicity, you have the capacity to transform your life.
This is true, and whilst this snippet of advice may motivate you to look at changing your way of being, you’re not given much guidance about how to actually transform your life.
What action should you take? What thoughts or information should you acquire?
Without insight and guidance, you could go in the wrong direction and waste a lot of time. If you know how to seek guidance from your inner wisdom, on the other hand, you will be provided with more information that guides you in the right direction. Inner wisdom gives you the opportunity to transform emerging energy into your concrete personality.
Information and self-knowledge are the domain of the Greek sun god Apollo – and one of his symbols is the dolphin. If you’re inquisitive, you may wonder why a creature of the sea is associated with a sun god, a feature of the sky.
Well, that’s because, dolphins are recognised for their intelligence and have a built-in sonar system that enables them to communicate and navigate. So do humans. It’s called the Superconscious, or Higher Self. Ph yeah, and god. But by whatever name you want to call it, just listen to it.
“The task confronting the patient or the student is to differentiate the elements of his own personal unconscious from the primordial archetypes or dominants of the collective unconscious, to enable the psychical energy to well up, activating and vitalising the faculties and powers of consciousness itself.”
~ Israel Regardie: The Philosopher’s Stone
What’s more, you may find it strange that the dolphin is often depicted with a trident or a cross in Christian traditions – a motif reflecting the crucifixion and purity of Christ. [Transformation, death and rebirth] Christ is a symbol of self-knowledge; an enlightened man.
With self-knowledge, you have information that enables you to change your habits and thus transform your life. A transformational process in self-development involves the transformation of energy.
Here, we also see the idea of the alchemists, Chymical Wedding – the union of the conscious mind (man) and unconscious content (woman).
In exoteric explanations of the Alchemical Marriage you will usually find references to the sun (conscious awareness) and the moon (unconscious content) and explanations of the symbolism expressing the harmony between the masculine and feminine aspects of your personality.
This is partly true, but these sources very rarely mention the union of unconscious content with the conscious mind. You can read a typical rendering of the alchemical wedding here.
In the medieval image below, you see the union of the sun and moon. The masculine sun is the ‘light’ of conscious awareness that the ego associates with. Self-knowledge is illumination or en-light-enment.
The moon can only be seen in the night sky because the light of the sun reflects on its surface. Thus unconscious content that is invisible during the day when the light of the conscious mind is blocking it becomes visible when you look into the darkness of the unconscious mind.
The unconscious is related to the darkness because you don’t see.
In Greek mythology, Artemis, who is often depicted with the crescent moon motif, gives birth to her brother Apollo, the sun god who represents self-knowledge. Master Mind Content associates Artemis with the Hero archetype and the Explorer, both of which help to enhance conscious awareness.
Carl Jung has Artemis down as an anima figure, a feminine energy in men that is usually projected onto women. The anima can have a negative effect on a man which Jung describes as “moody, irritable, depressed moods, uncertainty, insecurity, and touchiness.” (Carl Jung, Man And His Symbols)
“The anima, which is a personal demon expressing itself in thoroughly personal moods (therefore animosity!).Carl Jung, Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower
It is when you are in a negative frame of mind, restless or expressing your “demonic” side that can help you to identify the source of your displeasure and begin the healing process. Demons are the complexes that create problems in your life, split off aspects of your personality that are trying to make themselves known. Complexes can be identified through archetypal patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Another example of dolphin symbolism in Greek mythology belongs to Poseidon who sends the intelligent mammal to his beloved Amphitrite and persuades her to be his bride. Here we see how romance and communication we mentioned above are again related to the dolphin, but the dolphin’s mission on behalf of Poseidon was to change Amphitite’s mind; to transform her way of thinking.
Poseidon represents the Philanthropist archetype. As god of the sea, the “earth-shaker” has the capacity to destroy old habits, attitudes, beliefs and everything else that creates your illusion of the world etc. You do this by changing the contents of your thoughts and your view of the world.
By destroying old paradigms and patterns of behaviour that do not serve you, new ways of being can be cultivated. You plant the seeds in your subconscious (the Earth) with your conscious mind and nurture them with water.
The subconscious mind is enriched by integrating repressed consciousness buried in the unconscious. but before you can integrate unconscious content into the subconscious, it has to be made available and accepted by the conscious mind. Just as a woman has to accept the proposal of a man (or god) dolphin or no dolphin.
Since dolphins live in the sea but rise to the surface, ancient writers associated them with unconscious content emerging to the surface of the conscious mind. When self-knowledge rises to the surface you have the opportunity to reprogram your subconscious.
By associating patterns of behaviour with specific archetypes, you can determine which archetypes are dominant in you, which need deflating and which need developing.
I am working on a book and a self-development course that describes archetypes in detail. There is also an archetypes tool available in the Essential Self-Development program which you can access from here.
When you acquire new knowledge about yourself, you are in a position in which you can transform your life. Such a transformation can liberate your mind from the bonds of ignorance – which is why dolphins are associated with freedom.
In a South American myth, a half man half dolphin figure impregnates young girls. In symbolism, the male principle is the mind and young women are the subconscious – an unripe store of consciousness that is not yet fully matured with wisdom.
The mind, you could say, impregnates the subconscious with information, knowledge, and intelligence. Your subconscious responds to what you tell it.
“Psychologists and psychiatrists point out that when thoughts are conveyed to your subconscious mind, impressions are made in the brain cells. Working by association of ideas, it uses every bit of knowledge that you have gathered in your lifetime to bring about its purpose. It draws on the infinite power, energy, and wisdom within you.” ~ Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
Whereas Apollo represents self-awareness; self-knowledge rising from the Superconscious to the surface of the conscious mind, you might find this phenomenon described as dolphins moving between the supernatural world (water) and the natural world (earth).
Except that would be wrong, because water is related to the subconscious mind not the superconscious. However, information does communicate from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind around 90% of the time. These are your habitual programs.
So it’s interesting to note that the dolphin is also associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite who is synonymous with the Lover archetype. The wounded Lover is an addict, fuelled by the subconscious programs that seek self-gratification in the external world.
In other words, subconscious programs keep us bound to attachments the ego associates with as survival mechanisms. They keep you trapped in your comfort bubble going round in habitual circles. Meanwhile, Superconscious content remains repressed.
Carl Jung pointed out that by integrating unconscious content into the conscious mind we become whole, fertile and complete. It is unconscious energies, surfacing from the Superconscious, which Jung called archetypes.
The archetypes help to guide us towards the discovery of our True Self by observing instincts that take on a life of their own.
“Instincts are not vague and indefinite by nature, but are specifically formed motive forces which, long before there is any consciousness, and in spite of any degree of consciousness later on, pursue their inherent goals. Consequently, they form very close analogies to the archetypes, so close, in fact, that there is good reason for supposing that the archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, that they are patterns of instinctual behaviour.”
~ Carl Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Unfortunately, esoteric definitions are hard to come by in the public domain. They are available but there is no one complete body of work (at least not that I have found) that explains the meaning of esoteric symbolism sufficiently.
Consequently, you must consume multiple sources and piece the information together little by little. This naturally takes a lot of time. In addition, the hidden meaning of symbols in alchemical literature needs to be decoded.
In the Beginners Guide To Symbolism – which you can purchase from our website on the link below – I illustrate the differences between esoteric symbolism vs exoteric symbolism using the examples of the serpent (eSoteric) and the X (eXoteric), also known as the tumbling cross.
The Beginner’s Guide to Symbolism goes into more depth about how the mind-body-energy connection works. It is a critical starting point for understanding how to use esoteric symbolism as a self-development tool.
It’s also important to know both the negative and the positive aspects of a symbol in order to apply it to your life. Taking the positive meaning every time will not serve you in the quest for wholeness. As a matter of fact, it will hinder you and hold you back.