If you had suggested a year ago that I was self-sabotaging my chances of success in securing a publishing contract I would have denied it vehemently. I had done everything in my power to make that dream come true. I had an agent and my novel went out on submission, there was nothing I could do to influence the outcome. All of that is true. However, I have come to recognise a pattern of self-sabotage when I am striving for the things that I want most in my life. I hope that by sharing this with you I might help you to recognise similar patterns of behaviour in yourself.
We may not understand why we self-sabotage, but to achieve our dream we don’t have to. We just need to become aware, to observe with compassion, and by fractionally changing our direction of travel – steering that cruise ship one degree East, we can end up in a different place.
Understanding my behaviour and its impact has been a gradual process. In an earlier blog on How to stay the course and succeed I described how early signs of success and encouragement have led me to overreach in the past – trying to run before I can walk and then throwing up my hands in frustration when things don’t pan out as I had hoped. This is an over-simplification of a complicated thought process but it was the beginning of my growing awareness.
Is there a goal, an elusive dream, that you have failed to achieve despite doing everything within your power to make it come true? If you are a writer, it may be getting an agent or a publishing contract, but it could be anything: losing weight, finding a loving partner, getting a promotion. For me it has been, getting into OT college (age 18), getting a promotion (age 39), getting a publishing contract (recent years).
Every time that I was bashing myself against an unyielding wall, I thought I knew why things weren’t happening for me. I blamed other people, my circumstances, an unfair system. I would have done anything within my power to achieve my goal and had proved that through my hard work, determination and perseverance, so it had to be out of my control.
If I had kept an open mind and gently looked inward, not judging myself but with patience and kindness, I might have discovered how some of my behaviours were having a negative impact. These are the patterns I have observed in my behaviour:
Rushing off an application/submission
Have you pressed send on an important job application, competition entry, or query letter and then regretted being so hasty because you could have done a better job? I do this all of the time. I put it down to being efficient and getting a job done or being an impatient person. Neither of these is completely true. I am meticulous about writing a professional report for work and I am a perfectionist when writing and publishing a novel. So why do I dash off an application/submission when it is so important to me? I am protecting myself from rejection. If I get a negative response, I can say it is because I messed up my application. When we want something too much, we fear disappointment and so we take control – in this case, I was taking control of my failure.
Another move is to say, ‘I don’t know whether I want this job or not.’ I have heard myself and members of my family claim this when applying for a job. The line that follows is, ‘So I won’t be disappointed if I don’t get it.’ We are telling our loved ones please don’t pity me or be disappointed when I’m rejected. We don’t want to let them down. But by going into an interview with this thought, however peripheral, we are sabotaging our chance of success because the lack of interest will be apparent. I have done this myself. I even got the feedback that I was the best candidate on paper but I came over as not wanting the job.
It is annoying when someone suggests that we do something a different way, or learn new skills to achieve our goal. It means that we are not as ready as we believed ourselves to be. There is a knowledge/skill gap and as we look into what seems to be a gaping hole, we lose confidence. What if we are not good enough? We aren’t that person. We don’t fit. We will be found out. Instead of filling the gap and adapting our approach, we close down. I know that to be commercially successful as an author I need to be more genre-specific. I have spent years denying this and justifying why I can’t make my writing fit into one genre. The result is that whilst I can write books that are well received with great reviews, I will never achieve my dream of reaching a wider audience of readers until I learn to adapt.
‘I can’t.’ ‘I’ve tried.’ ‘It doesn’t work.’ How often have we cried out in defeat instead of knuckling down and doing the work: Learning a new skill, Trying a different approach? Sometimes we have to take what feels like a step backwards so that we can move forwards.
When I finished writing the first draft of my first novel, I sent it out to an agent and got a very encouraging response. It was a revise and resubmit letter with pages of comments to inform the rewrite. Instead of doing the work, I abandoned the manuscript and started on a new project. I threw away a golden opportunity. I justified this later by saying at that time I didn’t understand the implications of this positive and generous response. I misinterpreted it as ‘You are not good enough. Try again.’ This was what I was telling myself not the agent. For some reason, I did not think I deserved to be taken seriously.
There are lots of reasons why we might self-sabotage and our ingenious minds find subtle ways to do this. The good news is that as soon as we become aware of these patterns of behaviour we start to change.
Don’t beat yourself up if you think that you are self-sabotaging. You are just protecting yourself. Be kind and compassionate to the part of you that believes you are unworthy, is afraid of failing, disappointing others, or feels a bit overwhelmed by the idea of success.
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut believing that this is all we can have – if we expose ourselves as self- sabotaging then we have to accept that we may have wasted opportunities and that can be painful. I believe that the right thing happens at the right time. It may have taken me longer to get to where I am now but that is because I had to work through those experiences.
Changing my behaviour will not happen overnight but I feel as though my compass has been reset. I am cruising towards my paradise. I just had to change course a fraction.