Are you getting in your own way?
This is the next article in our ‘Mastering leadership through collaboration series’ in which Emma Versluis (BPIO/Quality) CNC and Tracy Churchill (NUM) partner up with inspiring leaders to learn from and share insights with each other and with you. In this article we talk about what happens when the obstacle in your career or life is you. For this topic, we reached out to collaborate with Laban Ditchburn who is an accountability coach, creator of 'Dino Balls' and owner of the podcast ‘Become Your Own Superhero’. Laban is also a reformed self-saboteur.
Tracy- Like everyone else, I have at times been the obstacle standing in the way of my progression and development. The hardest thing at the time, has been recognising that. It is so easy to blame external factors (they overlook me or underestimate me!) rather than take ownership of what is really going on (I didn’t showcase myself to the level I should have, I didn’t speak up when I could have). Blaming external factors allows us to stay in a victim mentality. When we are living in victim mode, everything ‘happens’ to us. We are the poor souls that the world happens to. We feel sorry for ourselves, wallowing in self-pity, while taking no action to correct the problems because:
However, when we take ownership- we take back responsibility, and the agency to change our situation. The change here is in the mindset. This paradigm shift can make all the difference. Emma and I have both written about the leadership book ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink and taking ownership, and responsibilities for our mindsets and our agency is at the core of taking extreme ownership.
An example of this was when I had been in a role for about eight years. I could not find a way forward and had no idea where to start. I asked unhelpful people for help and unsurprisingly on reflection, received poor advice. I felt invisible and insignificant and could not get past the things I saw as barriers in my path. It took moving workplaces to break the mindset and this new environment allowed me to trigger new ways of thinking about things. This move, while drastic action to some was immediately rewarding for my thought patterns and perceptions. Taking this action reignited the fire within me, and I quickly became passionate and engaged in my career again, stepping up and taking control and responsibility. It was surprising how rapid this change was.
I would caution others in the same situation to think that changing workplaces could make much of a difference, but in my case it really did. There is a proverb that states:
‘Wherever you go, you take yourself with you’.
If you are self-sabotaging and the problem with your career is you, this problem won’t change with your change of scenery, it will still be with if you move workplaces, or even change careers. However, being in an unfamiliar place inspired me to try new things, take new actions and learn different processes. I met two of my mentors in that workplace and the impact they have had on me is profound. I am forever grateful to them for sharing and mentoring me, and I am grateful to myself for having the courage to make a change, not only in scenery but in my ways of thinking.
Emma- Do you recognise your self-sabotaging? It might be -when you make a poor decision and then another one to compensate for the first until you find yourself completely overwhelmed and “all in” and defending your decision making. It might be when 2 weeks after your new years’ resolution you have stopped going to the gym and have cheated on your diet. Perhaps you have pretended that you knew something, and instead of saying “I don’t know” fear has driven you to bluff your way through until all of a sudden that bluff is your new ‘truth’ and you have justified it to yourself in some way.
*Side Note: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Authors of Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics and Think like a Freak purport that “I don’t know” are the 3 hardest words in the English language (yes even harder than I love you!”)
For me I think self-sabotaging stems from Imposter Syndrome – or as I prefer to call it: Imposter Thinking. Thought patterns that hold me back, prevent me from self-advocating and prevent me from reaching my goals. This probably stems from my ingrained beliefs that if you work hard, are good are what you do, have integrity, compassion and are generally a good person, other people will notice and you will be rewarded. Now I understand that this is flawed thinking. Everyone has different perceptions, interpretations and agendas and most of the time other people’s agendas don’t have you on them! This is not selfish, or a criticism – it is a call to arms! Get yourself on your own agenda! Put yourself at the top of your priority list! Start advocating for yourself and stop getting in your own way.
I don’t have a specific story to share about my experiences with self-sabotaging as I haven’t conquered this one yet! I have to work each day and find the courage to put my hand up, speak up, throw my hat in the ring and put myself on the agenda.
We asked Laban what do people do to sabotage themselves and how can they stop it?
Laban- It’s a brilliant and fascinating question to think about, and one that took me many, many years to generate any reasonable sense of an answer. However, from my own personal experience, self-sabotage seemed to be directly linked to my own fear of success (as opposed to the normal fear of failure).
Growing up in an environment that had few ‘Achievers’ in my family, meant that I had little exposure to anyone that was very comfortable ‘winning’ and hence able to set a great example. To fit in with my existing community, I needed to aim low. As a result, I surrounded myself with similar people from a young age and ended up in a bubble of dysfunction, caught in a negative feedback loop of like-minded individuals, that also believed they couldn’t achieve greatness. Our non-achieving was evidence that we could not succeed.
People sabotage themselves in different ways. They may procrastinate to the point that they miss opportunities or submit a low standard of work. They may fall into addictive behaviours which stifle their ability to grow as a person and enjoy genuine connection with others. They may strongly identify with their ego and limit their ability to effect change as they cannot truly hear or connect with others looking solely from a perspective which feeds the ego. They may believe their inner critic which stops them from even trying something new. Or they may take the opposite approach and charge at everything with full force, damaging relationships and blind to the cues to tread lightly in some spaces. To get out of this cycle, I needed to recognise my limiting beliefs and be open to change. Only by being brave enough to step out of my comfort zone could I really see a different possibility for myself.
How can you stop being your own biggest obstacle? Thankfully, it’s fairly simple to rectify…..if you have the grit to make some tough decisions.
Have you been your own biggest obstacle? Does this resonate with you? We hope this article prompts you to think about what we have said and then consider the following:
Finally, to conclude start saying YES to the things that make you uncomfortable. The discomfort is there for a reason – to stretch you and help you grow. Listen to this like a trusted adviser and start with YES.
Tracy Churchill is a Nurse Manager and LinkedIn Top Voice 2020. She shares her insight and expertise as a nursing leader during a time of tremendous upheaval for frontline health care workers. Her articles cover topics such as the loneliness facing COVID-19 patients as they isolate from their loved ones; the small acts of kindness that nurses provide to their patients; and how hospitals are managing nurse burnout, such as with four-day workweeks. She also writes about leadership and management from a nursing perspective.