Get Out Of Your Own Way

Updated: May 10, 2020

This post is about self-sabotage. Yes, at times we set ourselves up for failure and don’t even know it. Sometimes it is a knee jerk reaction and other times it’s drawn out and ingrained through tiny little consistent actions. I noticed a few of these in myself and want to share how I have tried to overcome them over the years.

1. Killing an Opportunity Before You Even Have a Chance

This is so, so common. Most times, as women we overthink a situation before it even happens, and “solve” a problem before it even becomes something we have to think about. It’s worse in the case of planners like myself.

Notice how you don’t apply for that job because it’s in a different country/city and you feel it will put a strain on your marriage/relationship or you don’t want to be away from your family? Or how you don’t consider an MBA at a top school because you think the 2 years away from your life will be hard? Or, quitting your job when you find out you’re pregnant because you can already see it will be tough?

It’s weird because you block the pathway to success or new experiences before it’s even presented. You haven't even applied for the job or put yourself up for the opportunity. Letting the possibility stop you from chasing it is the surest way to make certain you don’t get it. The trick here is to follow through till you’re no longer able to follow through, and then innovate.

Now, I try not to shut myself from opportunities and I sometimes tell myself, even if it doesn’t eventually happen it is worth a worthy shot. This puts me in a positive frame of mind to approach the situation and is a much healthier response. So next time, don’t face the problem before the problem comes.

Tell yourself, I will figure it out when I get to that bridge, trusting that you will somehow figure it out, when you have to.

2. Downplaying Your Achievements

It is hard to inspire confidence if you aren’t confident of your achievements, especially when you are in a professional setting. Your work will speak for you, but you also need to speak for your work. There’s a genuine way to speak of your achievements without it coming off as bragging and this is such a critical skill.

Sometimes, we not only tend to downplay our achievements in our heads, we go ahead to vocalize it (most times in an inappropriate setting), and then in some cases we put our weaknesses and flaws at the forefront of a conversation about competence.

For some people they express this by passing opportunities to others they think are more qualified, when they likely would have thrived on that opportunity themselves.

There is a time to be open about your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and to the right audience too, but there are times you need to clearly speak confidently to your competence and the quality of your work. Downplaying your achievements is a knee jerk reaction; you may find yourself just doing it unconsciously and going on and on about it, vocalizing the negative self-talk in your head.

The first step is to be aware when you do this; what triggers it? Is it when you get a compliment or when you feel someone wants to assess your competence and you feel the need to be humble? Figure out what causes you to do this, and then start unlearning from there. This is the root of a lot of issues, including selling yourself short. It is the #1 reason a lot of women find it difficult to negotiate their value’s worth.

Related Post: Negotiating Your Way Up

3. Not Raising Your Hand

There will be opportunities that will fall in your lap, even others where well-meaning colleagues will recommend you for more responsibility. However, there’s a huge portion which you need to seek out yourself, either by being upfront, or suggesting yourself when it is brought up. I previously struggled here; impostor syndrome is real.

If there was an opportunity that seemed to overlap with my skills but seemed way out of my league, I would be like, yeah I probably won’t qualify for that so why suggest myself?

I realized the trick is, most of the time, we think we should be 100% competent and hold ourselves to these unreasonable expectations of competence when about 70% competence level with learning as you go will do the work. Also, we learn by doing. Remember that.

So, stop waiting to have everything you need to do a job before you suggest yourself for the job. Stop feeling weird suggesting yourself, it doesn’t mean you are a narcissist or proud. It simply means you think you can do the work and want to be given a chance. That is not a bad thing.

There are lots of opportunities that you are competent for, a lot of value add you could have given. All lost because you didn’t think to suggest yourself. It's time to fix that.

4. Perfectionism

Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it's just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, 'I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

Perfectionism is fear in disguise.

I sincerely think this is true. We are human and we will always make mistakes, so the ideal scenario is that we learn from them and try not to repeat them. Mistakes make us smarter. So perfectionism is a trap. It sets unrealistic standards and if you always try to come across as perfect, making no mistakes, you will be held to that standard constantly. It is unhealthy, and exhausting to say the least.

I know this is probably what you think makes you great at your job. Instead, be that person who strives towards perfection but does not let it consume them. That person who isn’t afraid to make mistakes because they fear they will be anything short of perfect.

Perfectionism will stunt your growth mindset, and keep you stuck on a fixed mindset. It will cause you to approach failure with trepidation when you should indeed fail fast and fail forward. One would think this more of a strength and not self-sabotaging behaviour but it is.

We will face failures, and make decisions with poor outcomes, but that’s life.

We need to face it knowing that progress is better than perfection. Done is better than perfect.

Related Post: Failure is Okay

5. Pride

Pride manifests in the strangest ways. Sometimes it's arrogance and egotistical behaviour, and other times it’s looking down on someone you secretly admire, who you believe is doing the things you should be doing.

Admit it, it takes a lot of self-awareness to realize that sometimes you are threatened by people who “have what you want, Especially when you think the person is less qualified than you or that you can do the job better than them.

That mindset self-sabotages. How? It automatically assumes you have nothing to learn from the person. When it is in fact the opposite. The person who makes you feel that way is probably someone you want to be friends with, learn what they are doing right, and get tips on ways to generally improve yourself.

Most times it's a knee jerk reaction but we can rise above our impulses. Next time you see that person, face the rising jealousy and anger with inspiration and encouragement. Reach out. Tell them how inspired you are, and learn from them.

6. Being Okay With No Growth

This is simply the outcome of fear though people misinterpret it as laziness. Sometimes, we’re not willing to take risks because “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush”.

We think, at least I have this, what else do I need? I have a hypothesis that when you are okay with no growth over time, it’s your mind’s way of convincing you that you don’t need to try new things, because you’re afraid of failure.

Back to (4) above, you are not perfect. Nobody is. Allow yourself make mistakes, because you learn along the way and it is better to have tried and failed, than to not have tried at all. So, ask yourself, have you pushed yourself recently?

Have you been in the same spot for years, with very little growth? Ask yourself the tough questions; why is this so? The way out lies in the answers you honestly give yourself. Leave your comfort zone, stay uncomfortable. That’s the only way to grow.

7. Hiding from the Limelight

I am incredibly guilty of this one and I recently dug deep to find out why. Most of the time, we do not want to publicize our achievements, or be a public face to anything. We put our heads down, do the work, but don't actively seek out, or take advantage of opportunities to showcase our personal brand.

The odd thing about this is, even if you showcase your work without showing who is behind the work, it is hard for people to relate to you. So now there is a conundrum. You need to be the face of what you do so that people understand your "why" better. On the other hand, you just want to do the work without your face attached to it.

When I tried to diagnose this, it simply boiled down to the fact that I am scared. Scared of being rejected. Held back by impostor syndrome. Wondering, what if they think I’m not all that? This fear cripples and the way I’ve tried to rise above this is by focusing on my message and not obsessing over what people think. This has greatly helped me. I took baby steps to build confidence. It was one of the reasons I started this website.

So, in what other ways have you identified self-sabotage? Please share so we can learn, unlearn, and flourish like the queens we are!

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