As I sit down at my computer to edit this piece, I feel that it needs a disclaimer – I am not a mental health professional but during this pandemic I have taken time to work on myself in terms of yoga teacher training and collaborative law delivery and mediation courses. That of course does not mean that I can dispense any health advice; I just want to share that becoming remembering that we can be our own worst enemy is important. Also, as I mentioned in a past article – it’s important to stay motivated and be self aware.
When it comes to work or career and our push for success, there’s no shortage of external obstacles on any given day. Indeed, in this particular moment, we’re seeing unprecedented difficulties in trying to stay afloat amidst a pandemic, to go with the typical challenges that every company faces. Those forces are often less antagonistic than they are indifferent; a virus is wholly unconcerned with economic demands, or whether you choose to believe in it or not. And the market as a whole is uninterested in aiding you any further than your ability to bend it slightly to your will. There is a chance that the only person working against your goals may be you.
For some of us, self-sabotage comes as easily and as naturally as any of the work we do on a given day. It can come in seemingly endless forms: indecision, indifference, lethargy, unwarranted squabbling with others, and negative self-talk. However it manifests, the central function is the same: to prevent you from doing work to the fullest of your ability, and ultimately to stop you from achieving what you’re truly capable of doing.
We’ve all been guilty of derailing our own efforts from time to time; who hasn’t procrastinated on a big project out of dread or anxiety? Overcoming that impulse towards self-sabotage requires recognizing it for what it is, and working past it to maintain our productivity.
We’re all dealing with fear when it comes to our work. Fear of the outcomes we might face, fear of the potential for mistakes and subpar efforts, and fear of the emotions brought on by fear. All of this fear can cause us to sidestep the issue altogether by avoiding the things that might validate those fears. Any genuine effort comes with the real risk of failure, and so we make it impossible for ourselves to put forth that genuine effort. We give ourselves too little time or too few resources, so that our shortcomings are easily explained away, rather than face the possibility of a real appraisal of our efforts. We let ourselves down and sometimes it happens before we even realize. The trick is to pause and evaluate the why of the situation. Be careful that you do not drop into the same pattern that leads to self-sabotage. Have the internal conversation or at least give yourself some space to evaluate your first instincts.
Often, with fear comes doubt: doubt about our own abilities and talents, and our ability to actually achieve what we set out to do. It’s likely doubt that held many of us back from even starting the task, and it continues to haunt us in our work. The doubt can also be interpreted as “imposter” or “fraud” syndrome; the idea that we are working above where we should be and someone will call us out for being an impostor. Young or first-time founders or recently promoted executives suffer from this and it can lead to self-sabotage as you grapple with issues thinking that this particular challenge will certainly be the one that brings you down.
As our businesses grow, so do the stakes of failure; every new person who ties themselves to our work is another person we can possibly let down, which at times feels like inevitable failure. And so we prevaricate and delay ultimate judgment on what we’re doing, as though we can succeed by somehow running out the clock on the possibility of rejection.
Conquering those self-defeating impulses requires a bit of honesty with yourself and a bit of courage, plus the space as described above. We’re not going to get everything right, or do everything perfectly, and we have to be willing to live with those results, and more importantly, not take those failures and any negative accompanying feedback personally. Sure, it’s far easier to avoid the hit to your ego entirely by always creating an excuse, but that’s only delaying the inevitable, or avoiding the truth. If you’re genuine about your desire to actually succeed, and not simply achieving up to the level that you can successfully protect your pride, you’ll be willing to take any criticism that may come and learn from it.
In the end, we’re doing ourselves a favor in preventing self-sabotage; we’re allowing ourselves to live and work free of the burden of a guarded existence. Avoiding that rejection means not truly seeing yourself and your work honestly, not just through the lens of your own making. And without failure or criticism, we can’t truly grow or evolve.
None of this is what we intend when we unconsciously choose to do damage to the work and the company we care about unreservedly. Our instinct towards self-preservation is strong — enough to cause us to do far more general harm to avoid a specific pain. If we wish to stop ourselves, we need to recognize our behaviors for what they are and make the deliberate choice to avoid them, even when such choices come with the potential for failure. Because in the end, isn’t it better to fail, knowing that you tried your best, rather than spend your life wondering what might have been? #onwards.