Do you ever have moments where something really awesome happens and you suddenly hear your inner voice turn to the Dark Side? Things like, “You’re not good enough. They’re going to find out and then there’s going to be a real mess.” or “Enjoy this little breakthrough while it lasts. It’s all downhill from here.” begin to spiral in your head.
Awful stuff, right?
This is a little voice I like to call Self Sabotage. It is something we all experience as humans. As creative entrepreneurs, it is the passenger constantly sitting in the back seat next to Fear. Together, these guys can be a real kick in the pants. When Fear starts singing “I can’t, you can’t, we all can’t!” Sabotage weasels right in to offer “solutions”. These “solutions” hold us back.
Why does this happen?
Your brain is wired to keep you in your comfort zone, to keep you safe. When something happens that changes what your brain has defined as “normal” or “comfortable” s, it sends in its trusty companions Fear and Self Sabotage to bring us back into the zone before we get hurt or in trouble...but it’s a double-edged sword because your brain does it for any kind of “stressful” situation. If you don’t have the tools to contend with what’s happening or even realize it’s happening, you can end up holding yourself back before you even get started. Trust me. I’ve been there.
In 2014 I had the great honor of winning one of the six Mentorship awards presented at the SCBWI LA conference. It was one of the best unexpected experiences of my career. Self Sabotage made it one of the worst.
I’ll level with you: I had no idea that the award existed. It was my first national conference (something outside of my “normal comfort zone”) and I had my learning pants on. Of course, I had the big dream of being discovered by an agent or a publisher; but I was totally shocked when my name was announced as a winner. As my stress levels skyrocketed, my brain sent in its trusty companions who set to work right away. “They’ve made a mistake!” were the first words that popped into my brain.
Fear’s words did the job and Sabotage stepped in to seal the deal. I began to look for the worst. Any small comment from a mentor meant to help or explain became devastating because I was sure they’d discovered I was out of place. I was the mistake. I wasn’t good enough to be there. The negative voice inside my head pummeled me to the point where I didn’t hear all of the outstanding feedback and support I was offered until much later….about a year later...when I was able to finally push forward once again.
This was the first major spike of success while working directly toward my dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator so my little frienemy caught me off-guard. Don’t let it catch you unawares. Instead, be on the lookout for Sabotage’s favorite tricks like these:
- Avoidance - Does that new Netflix show sound a lot more enticing than the project you’re working on? Maybe the house suddenly looks too filthy to live in so it must be cleaned before you can sit and work in the studio. There are a thousand reasons to procrastinate on a project, especially when it’s more prestigious or a new kind of challenge you haven’t faced before.
- Create Conflict - Do you feel really upset about someone or something? Is it maybe something that normally doesn’t bother you? Are you overbooking yourself so that your schedule is too full? There are all kinds of subtle ways we create conflict to avoid dealing with Sabotage.
- Run Away - Maybe the project is way too hard or it’s going to take up way too much time. It’s probably better to abandon it before getting in too deep...right? It’s better to leave now and keep your reputation intact instead of ruining it over a project that’s too much to handle.
- Bare Minimum - If running away isn’t an option, do you find yourself thinking “Well I’ll just do the minimum of what needs to be done so I won’t be as invested when things go sideways.”?
When these signals surface it’s time to take on Sabotage because you’ve got this! Some tools I use to deal with Sabotage include:
- Make goals: When I first started freelancing I convinced myself that I was not a planner. If you don't plan, you can't fail, right? However, two years ago I found a quote by Walt Disney that states: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This little quote was enough to convince me. I went all in and put my career dreams on paper. I made it a priority to plan my journey. I started setting goals, writing to-do lists, and taking the time to do self-evaluations once a month. Although I haven't completed all my goals, I have set milestones to work toward and that drives me forward in a way that "going with the flow" never did.
- Turn up the volume on self-awareness: Start paying special attention to the little details. Check in with yourself to make sure you are on the path you want to be.
- Get support: The best way to achieve your goals is to hold yourself accountable. There are so many ways to connect with fellow artists now, through online groups like SCBWI, and local events. Use those connections to set yourself up for success! Share your goals with your creative community and have them share theirs. Together, you can hold each other accountable and push each other to new heights!
- Celebrate Your Achievements: It’s really easy to get caught up in the grind and not stop to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Stop for a second and take stock. Have you completed any of your goals recently? If so, take the time to pour yourself a little glass of bubbly and do a little happy dance. Maybe it’s worth having a dessert? No matter what you choose, take the time to celebrate you!
Change is hard, even good change; but you’ve got this! Marie Forleo said, “When it comes to joy and success, your built-in limit is completely adjustable.” So tell Fear and Sabotage to quit backseat driving and take the wheel.
Jeslyn Kate writes/illustrates for children and teaches art.You can find her work at these different locations:
Instagram: Jeslyn Kate