Sabotage’s Sweet Relief
I remember the first day I decided to fail. I just stopped. The anxiety and pressure that nearly sent me spiraling into a panic attack just…went away. I didn’t have to be stretched and find new muscles. I didn’t have to develop or be embarrassed. I could just be. It was comforting at first. But then I began to get restless. Not growing is dying. It’s slow asphyxiation. It’s creative immolation disguised as comfort. I felt like I was being left behind because I was. But the comfort of doing something where I never could possibly make a mistake was too inviting. That’s sabotage’s allure. You feel safe if you never step outside of the small box you lock yourself in. Sabotage is comfort and fear whispering in your ear. It is the enemy of effort. Sabotage is something we learn as children and carry as adults. But with some effort, anything can be unlearned.
How did I get there? I listened to my anti. My anti-me, hates myself. My anti-me will always tell me that I look worthless. That I’m ugly. My anti-me will remind me that no one wants me. My anti-me will tell me that I need give up and die.
We all have one unfortunately. It usually takes on the voices of the people who were most critical of us at some point in our lives. These can be parents, church figures, teachers, bullies, you name it. We start confusing their voices for our own and start believing the shit that they tell us. An unchecked anti is deadly. It means you very often feel inadequate, incapable, and unchangeable. You begin to sink into a pit of your own self-doubt.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
As a preacher’s kid I became obsessed with perfection at a very early age. If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t anything. I had to be on because it wasn’t just my reputation at stake. I hid in that. Eventually though, I would have to be my own person. How can you go through the growing pains of developing as a person when you’re too afraid to even make a mistake? Anxiety interpreted criticism as a death wish. I was paralyzed by my fear to succeed and crippled by my ability to constantly feel the need to sabotage everything. I could hide in that too. When you’re not known, people won’t bother you, and they definitely won’t criticize you.
According to Dr. Carol Dweck there are two mindsets. A growth mindset is that of a person who knows failure is just a learning opportunity. A fixed mindset is when they believe you have a fixed amount of talent and that’s it. Nothing can be acquired or learned. That’s me. Or at least it has been. I’ve made talent the ultimate metric when it means very little in reality.
When I first came to college I was used to being the big fish in a small pond. But my school was huge and I started to feel average. I never felt less capable in my life an often times I would give up before ever beginning. When you’re praised to often, it can feel like pressure. I didn’t have a working knowledge of what failure actually meant. I just knew how to keep up airs and play the part. I pretended until the pretending got exhausting. I would have panic attacks in parking lots, two minutes into my walk to class, late at night in my room. I thought that is was a sign that I couldn’t be better, I just was what I was. If my mind was fertile soil I had just added poison to it. I started to believe that there was nothing more that I could be, not without ridicule, not with criticism. I would rather go on silently, isolated from others than try, fail, and learn. I completely quit on myself.
Are You Addicted?
Have you ever “gotten sick” before an event that could help you in order to not be seen? Ever not entered a contest because you didn’t believe you could win? Procrastinate so badly on something for fear of producing something terrible? Been there, living it. In fact, last month I waited until the very last minute to apply to a venture challenge contest. I mean that too. I submitted it at 11:59 pm. It got accepted. Then I found out about the challenges we had a month to submit. So much of the terminology went far over my head. I felt uneasy, inadequate, and embarrassed in the company of my competitors. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. My brain went straight to panic. I told myself that my idea was silly. I told myself that I just didn’t have what it took this year. Let’s try next year (which means never again). My insecurities kicked into hyper-drive. I looked at what my other competitors were doing. I felt stupid, foolish even. I started at the last possible minute because I needed an excuse for not finishing…because I couldn’t live with the idea that I wasn’t enough or didn’t have what it takes.
Then the deadline got extended.
I had to turn it in now. So again I waited til the last minute, hoping I could bank on not finishing as an excuse for not trying. But no, I got it in exactly at midnight. Damnit. Then came the announcement of the finalists. I was in. The joy came first. I hadn’t given my best effort but still exceeded their expectations. It made me feel good. Then the sinking realization came to mind. I couldn’t just give up. I had told people. I had to go in front of an audience. I needed to actually prepare. Wtf. WTF? WTF?!
For years I’ve allowed that saboteur to raid my brain and spirit. I even had a professor tell me that he couldn’t understand how someone so talented could be so afraid of themselves. “Don’t let this immobilize you.” I always hear him say that right before something does. I’ve convinced myself that I’m ok with living in this tension of knowing what I can be and being unhappy with who I am now but I know better. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
So What Now?
How do you reconcile yourself? How do you usurp the narrative in your brain with a new one? It’s not easy. It took 15 years for these ideas to get cemented in my brain. It’s going to take some time to chisel them out. I try to remind myself everyday that I’m making steps. Even the smallest one counts for something. Here are the two things that have helped me the most:
I’m sure you hear it all the time but trust me it works. It’s a mind dump. All the little unconscious things I tried to hide come to light. All the small moments of my day that I thought meant nothing start to mean a lot more. I’m able to express myself fully without fear of judgment and look at my life objectively at the same time. It gets my emotions out in a healthy way and let’s me let go of them. I really like writing at the end of the day. It helps me sleep so much better. Seriously grab one. This is the one I use.
If you know anything about me, you know my ass is loud as hell. GIRL. I’m always talking, always thinking, and if you think it’s exhausting to hear me, it’s worse to have a constant flood of words come out ALL.THE.TIME. Meditating is not fun for me. I fidget. My mind flies to one thing and then the next. It’s difficult. I never realized just how much. But each day I try to get in just five minutes of listening to my breath. If a thought comes up (and it does), I let it go. I just focus on my breathing. The days where I can do this are usually the most productive and calm days of the month. When I don’t…eh.
These are stupid simple steps that are feasible for anyone. Life change doesn’t require a $200 purchase of a book or course (although I’m sure one day I might be asking y’all to check mine out lol), it ends and begins with you. You don’t have to be held hostage to your shadow. You control it, not the other way around.
So how do you handle your saboteurs? Leave your comment and don’t forget to share and subscribe!