Over the holidays, a job popped up on a Facebook group I'm part of.  It looked interesting, and it was mostly remote, a huge plus for me since I'm geographically restricted to small-town Oregon.  My skillset mostly aligned with what the job description outlined.  But there were a couple of areas where I had some, but not much, of the required expertise.  The job poster wanted to move quickly, and I could see from the comments that four people had already PM'd her.  I dithered.  Should I?  Was it worth my time to apply?  Ultimately, I did nothing.  And later spent more energy wondering if I should have.

Self-sabotage or realism?  What makes self-sabotage such a hard concept is that sometimes the answer is very gray, the line very fuzzy.  I, like all of us, have only a certain amount of time in my day.  Spending it applying to jobs where I'm not qualified and have little or no chance of landing an interview is not a good use of my time and actually prevents me from doing work that helps me move forward in my personal and career goals.  That's easy to see.

But self-sabotage is more pernicious in the times when we talk ourselves down or out of doing something.  As my friend and co-host, Lisa Munro says in "Who the Hell Are You," wanting success is too scary.  And so we stick with failure because it's safe and familiar.  But in order to make progress in our lives towards the things we want, we need to start calling out when we self-sabotage ourselves.  

Self-sabotage is a tough topic to talk about.  Like those things we do or say that make us squirm with embarrassment when we think about them later, we don't like to think about self-sabotage as something we do. Self-sabotage is something that happens to us or is the result of an internal trait, so we like to think.  Spent two hours rewriting a paragraph to get it exactly right?  "Well, that's because I'm such a perfectionist," we tell ourselves.  Or, we have to spend all of that time grading because we're thorough and students need the feedback.  We know it's not helpful, but it's become part of our internalized narrative.  We're perfectionists and that's what perfectionists do.  Obsessing over details doesn't help us write more efficiently or get through that stack of grading so we can move on to our other work, but it's part of who we are.  As a result, it becomes very hard to back down from engaging in perfectionism.

But there's a difference between traits and behaviors that hold us back.  Recently I decided I was tired of being late.  I've been one of those chronically late people:  late to social events, late to work, getting chores done late.  This is a life-long struggle for me.  And I'd adopted lateness as a trait.  Even though it was harmful, it was something I seemed to be stuck with. I was a person who was Late to things. I was trapped in a feedback loop:  the more often I was late, the more I engaged in behaviors that made me late to start with (hitting snooze alarm a few times too often sound familiar to anyone?). 

A few months ago, I noticed my pattern of behavior around being late:  each time I was late it was because I'd failed to manage my time well. I would become simultaneously angry at myself and blame both myself (I'm lazy; I'm a flake) as well as others (if only everyone else in the house cooperated, I wouldn't be as late as I am now).  I'd also engage in self-pity (It's just so hard to get everyone out the door on time.  The only way I can do this is to get up at 4:00 am). And I would be afraid that others would judge me or blame me for being late. I would arrive at wherever  I was supposed to be, late, and a stressed mess. 

Once I noticed this pattern, and (this is the important part) accepted it without my usual cycle of blame and defensiveness, I was able to decide that I was done with being late.  Accepting that I was engaging in certain behaviors, not that I was a flaky or lazy person, moved lateness from a personal trait to a set of actions I could stop doing.   Being late made me look unprofessional and like I didn't care about my friends.  I am a professional, and I care about my friends.  I'm not a flake, and I'm not lazy.  I can choose to manage my time better (no, I don't have to get up at 4 am, but fifteen minutes earlier makes a difference).  So, I've stopped being habitually late.  And I feel so much better!  Whew!

When you habitually act in ways that hold you back, you engage in self-sabotage.  Self-sabotage keeps you from taking action that moves your life forward in positive ways.  Once you recognize and accept the ways you act out of fear to keep yourself in place, you can make changes to your actions and behavior to get to where you want to go.


How have you engaged in self-sabotage and what are you doing to overcome it?  Leave me a comment with your experience!