Self sabotage is so common in our Western culture, I think we’re almost oblivious to how much we actually do it. We’re even more clueless about specifically WHY we do it.
The answer is pretty simple, but I’ll add in something special to spice it up a bit.
Whether we want to become a best-selling author, start a blog, get in shape, or drink more water, the foundation for all success looks pretty much the same. Yes, foundation.
Ever seen a foundation?
Foundations aren’t sexy. Rebar, concrete, maybe some pipes and pylons. That’s pretty much it. From skyscrapers to that shed in the back yard, if we want that sucker to remain standing long-term, we must have a foundation.
Same in life.
The foundation for finishing a novel, running a 5K, rearing well-adjusted children who don’t grow up to be serial killers, all looks fairly similar. There are no MASSIVE, HUGE actions that determine the outcome. Rather, it’s the compilation of countless small (and consistent) actions that makes the difference.
Those unsung moments no one sees or cheers. The boring parts. Oddly enough though, this is part of why we’re so prone to sabotage success.
#1: The Foundation of Success is BORING
If you haven’t figured this out already, then let me be the one to drop the truth bomb. Most ‘success’ is a complete and utter snooze-fest. I have a soft spot for the folks who build foundations. They don’t get the sexy part of the skyscraper, mansion, or house. Nope.
They get the ugly, sticky, repetitive and unsung work.
Work that, oddly enough, is the part NO ONE sees or ever compliments. Nobody walks past the Chrysler Building in NY and exclaims, ‘WOW, I bet those buried pylons, pillars and rebar are AMAZING!’
No, humans admire all the stuff that isn’t nearly as critical and we’re all but oblivious to the very thing that’s keeping everything standing.
This is part of what makes sabotage so appealing, especially in our modern culture. Foundations aren’t fun. We could post or tweet about our foundation-building, but we’d annoy ourselves and others in less than a week.
Here’s a pic of my eggs and kale juice…again. Just like the last twenty days.
I threw my clothes in the hamper instead of on the chair!
Paid a bill as soon as it came it! GOLD STAR!
Made sure I flossed.
Calmly but firmly corrected my child for being disrespectful.
Wrote another five hundred words on my novel.
Sure, we might post on this stuff now and again, but seriously. Who wants to hear about this? Probably no one. And, since foundations are dull, we sabotage and fixate on other ‘activities’ that deliver more zing.
Insta-Fame seems so much more fun than waiting on a darkroom destiny.
Successful relationships, businesses, parenting, gardening are all pretty much a lot of wash, rinse, repeat.
Want to be a great writer? Write every day. Read as much as possible. Study. Get professional feedback, help, training so you can improve.
Start the book and finish the book.
Write, revise, revise, revise, edit, revise, edit again, publish, repeat. Simple.
Not glamorous…at all.
One exception—NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
One month out of the year, writers excel at getting words on the page—November. Why? Because what the professional does in the dark eleven months out of the year is suddenly a big brouhaha. The unsung mundane drudgery of the author is suddenly ALLURING and EXCITING.
Hey, I am NOT dissing NaNo. Quite the opposite. I LOVE it. Heck, it’s why I DO NaNoWriMo! ONE month out of the year I get freaking BADGES and AWARDS for doing…well, pretty much my JOB.
We gather our friends and tweet our drama and struggles. People actually give a rip about the best line we wrote that day. There’s a counter to display word count and if we’re close to ‘WINNING.’
Now Let’s Talk About the REST of the Year
But once NaNoWriMo is over, how many writers finish? How many sabotage? We keep going back over those first chapters ‘perfecting’? There are so many good reasons why we’ve not finished that novel—and there ARE—but the truth is that often WE ARE BORED.
Sabotage brings back the sizzle.
Remaining committed to a novel until ‘published do us part’ is HARD. Sabotage? Way funner (yes, ‘funner’ is a word…today). Start a NEW book, with an even BETTER idea. It’s HARD to figure out how to write my way out of a plot problem. It’s exhilarating to begin anew.
I know this from experience. Every book I’ve ever finished (and published) I never wanted to read AGAIN.
This is the paradox of progress. The more miserable it feels, the harder it is? Likelier the closer we are to achieving the remarkable.
Yep. All of it. I agree. I’ve been on both sides. Still am. I have SO many cool ideas for new books, but I’ve banned myself from writing any of them until I FINISH what I’ve started.
Same in a lot of other areas. Sticking with one meal plan and exercise routine is a GRIND. Seriously, how much broccoli can a person eat? We allow tedium to have too much of a say and start a NEW plan.
Me? I’ve been RIDICULOUS here. I have LITERALLY begun a day with a plan for fasting in the morning but then by about 10:00 a.m.? Bacon sounds too good. So helloooo…um Keto? Keto is totally perfect. Until late in the afternoon when I really, really want some carbs and then ATKINS IT IS (because even induction lets me have some carbs).
By the end of the day? I’m eating marshmallow fluff with a spoon because, well…marshmallow fluff is ‘fat-free.’
*hangs head in shame*
Accept the boring parts, because the duller it is? Likelier the more vital.
One way to stop sabotage in all its many forms is to set our mind and keep it set. Accept that building foundations isn’t exciting…unless we fail to build them properly (or at all). Then it gets REAL exciting…and ugly, painful, and costly.
#2: Most of Success is Invisible
Sure, there are foundational behaviors that lead to success in all areas of life. We get that. But, foundations aren’t foundations unless we build something on top of that foundation. Otherwise? Unless we construct something meaningful on our foundation, we don’t have a foundation.
We have a really sturdy/well-plumbed parking lot.
But think about buildings, whether it’s a new strip-mall, sky-scraper or housing development. Aside from when we initially notice something is different—Hey, didn’t that used to be a scrap yard?—we pretty much zone out and go back to our lives.
We don’t pay attention to the framing and the drywall and the bricking and windows that are all being systematically added on top of the foundation. No one sees the grind (unless you’re the one in the grind). It isn’t until the builders are finished that we might even notice.
In our increasingly codependent world, we might sabotage because we crave attention and reassurance. This has only gotten worse, and is even impacting the groups who were initially the most resistant to participating on social media.
When I first started trying to get authors on social media, I thought they’d burn me as a witch.
Authors, historically, tend to be reclusive, anti-social, and prefer imaginary people and worlds over the real thing. We suffered and bled in silence. Braved rejection and wept and no one gave one single fig about our despair.
Once social media went mainstream, this ALL changed.
If one looks at the Myers-Briggs personality test, the INFJ is the author personality. It’s one of the rarest personalities. Yet, once social media went mainstream, I couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some ‘author’ posting about being an INFJ.
They couldn’t see the irony that the TRUE INFJ was more likely to be the Unibomber than to be posting countless memes on Facebook about being an INFJ.
Alas, the personality least likely to even BE on social media seemed to never get OFF of it.
Maybe these folks are INFJs and social media is simply their NEW personal holodeck where they can remain in their own minds. That IS part of what made INFJs such prolific authors.
They wrote TONS of novels because they had to put words on a page if they wanted to experience a world they built and controlled and could live in most of the time without having to deal with people they hadn’t created themselves.
Me? I think Facebook Myers-Briggs tests aren’t entirely accurate. Also I’m pretty sure I was not Cleopatra in a previous life (well other than fab makeup, clothes, cats, worship and a hot Roman boyfriend…but no…okay on the fence if I believed in past lives).
In fairness, I am NOT an INFJ. I’m an ENFP and everyone expects me to be hopped up more than a toddler on cocaine-laced Pixie Sticks.
***As a note, for those who care. The ENFP is the most introversive of the extrovert classifications. I require long periods alone without people to recharge.
Sabotage gives short-term gratification.
I understand why we are so prone to sabotage this way (regardless of personality). First, just being a functioning adult is an utterly thankless job. No parties for the person who (correctly) loads the dishwasher. Zero compliments for using our blinkers when changing lanes.
I’ve yet to get a You Didn’t Go to JAIL Today! sticker. Not even any stickers for, Hey, Your Kid is Still Alive! Another Day NOT Worshipping Satan! GO YOU! You’ve had 4,973 Days With NO Underground Pit Bull Fights!
Oddly, the better we are at something (like NOT going to jail), the less likely others will notice and compliment.
People don’t compliment punctual people for being on time. Strangers don’t compliment us for waiting our turn in line at a store. Thanks to the People of Walmart, no one gives us a pat on the back for wearing pants when we go outside.
Utilities companies never send extra letters to people who always pay on time.
***I can, however, attest, they send a LOT of letters—ones that even change color—to those of us who are prone to forget or procrastinate.
Sabotage and the Thrill that Kills
As a long-time author, I can appreciate why writers are increasingly prone to leaning on social media for assurance. With the implosion of traditional publishing and rise of self-publishing, the goal posts and mile markers we used to celebrate—that used to actually MEAN something—are pretty much extinct.
When I first started, I would imagine getting the agent, the book deal, seeing my novels on B&N shelves, the book-signing, the accolades and praise for gutting it out long enough to be one of the chosen few. I envisioned my novels leaving top book critics and reviewers gobsmacked.
Not once did I ever envision how book reviews would be a popularity contest. That our books would be open to just anyone who wanted to say something, even if it was cruel, stupid, or untrue.
Did I mention STUPID?
I couldn’t conceive of a world where ‘people’ who’d never bought or even read my books would be permitted an opinion—an opinion that directly impacted my life.
***FYI, this is why Goodreads is dead to me.
Our rites of passage are all but gone. Publishing participation trophies have replaced authentic triumphs.
Before Amazon, to even be able to claim one was a published author inspired awe from strangers. Why? Because it wasn’t something just anyone could do. Even if our book sold five copies, we held a title most people would never attain.
We’d suffered years in private and made it through gate-keepers when most gave up. Now? I admit it’s hard for me to dream. The dreams are so much more daunting.
I could reasonably imagine landing an agent, getting a book deal, seeing my books on shelves.
To imagine being a NYT best-selling author, or that my books would be movies or HBO series was just bonus. In the realms of mythos. Sure, I’d have loved it to happen, but it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I think the only way I’ll believe I’m a good writer is if I hit the NYT list and have my stories made into HBO series. Even then…
I already had ‘Imposter Syndrome’ like most creative people. But these days? In the digital paradigm?
Which brings me to my final point about success.
#3: Success is More than Vanity Metrics
You guys are smart, so you might see there’s been a bit of a theme running through this post. It is madness to define ‘success’ externally.
In regular life, we might find ourselves caring too much if people liked a post on Facebook or Instagram.
We can also fall into the comparison trap, judging our raw footage against other people’s highlight reels. I have family members who make Martha Stewart look like a slacker. They post pictures of their child taking art classes in London and the family trip to Lake Cuomo in Italy—which is FABULOUS and I am genuinely happy for them.
And then remind myself they LIVE in Europe and that a trip to Italy is like me going to Galveston for the weekend.
As for me and my life?
I just figured out the white bits on the bathroom wall are my cat Izzy’s art project. She’s very creative. I took away her yarn because she’d made the entire dining room into a God’s Eye/safety hazard.
I thought we just had a TON of nicks in the paint on the one bathroom wall…then I looked closer.
Apparently, Izzy has taken to tossing rolls of toilet paper into the bowl so she can scoop out the wet bits WHERE SHE THEN PASTES THEM ON THE WALL AND WISH I WERE JOKING. I had to clean up an entire wall of ‘Cat TP-Mache Art.’
Metrics don’t make mega-authors.
When I teach writers, far too many want to learn how to be mega-marketers instead of brilliant/skilled storytellers. As if George R.R. Martin became one of the most influential authors in modern history because of his social media marketing and NOT because he’s penned a gazillion short stories, novels, and series.
Not because he’s practiced and studied and worked to hone natural talent into awe-inspiring genius.
Nope. Had to be his ad campaigns and mastery of Hootsuite *face palm*
Sabotage and busy-work.
Granted, mega-authors like George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King were already household names before the major shift in our world and in publishing. Alas, there are other authors who’ve ‘come of age’ in the modern era and the reason they are successful is because they focus on what matters most.
Yes, as a branding expert, I will tell you that if you want to do this writing thing full-time and be paid and have any hope of success, you must have a platform and brand. This is no longer optional unless your last name is Kardashian.
For those of us who don’t already come from famous and uber-wealthy families, we have to cultivate our audience because discoverability is a nightmare.
Ah, but here is the catch. A platform and brand is only useful for an author that writes and finishes and then publishes books.
***I have one finger pointed at y’all and three at myself.
Yet, far too many writers are fixated on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, building a newsletter, improving their metrics, and all this is a distraction. Worse, it’s a socially acceptable form of sabotage.
Even blogging can be self-sabotage. One has to be careful. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I’ve not been posting as much. I needed to be focusing more on other areas of my writing (and recovering from multiple rounds of dental work).
***Though, to be fair, prolific blogging will vastly improve our writing skills, our speed, self-discipline and ability to make self-imposed deadlines. Facebook and Instagram? Not so much.
Just DO IT
We might chat more on this another time, but all this frou-frou stuff is best summed up by the famous Nike slogan—JUST DO IT. Sure, we’ll talk later about our why and motives and all that other jazz. For now? Just DO it.
We all self-sabotage. There is no need for us to journal about or fears, to learn our triggers, or uncover all the reasons we feel like frauds. Granted, it’s good work…just do it AFTER the hard work.
Pretty much everyones self-sabotages. Why? For the same reason we eat junk food and binge watch Netflix. IT’S FUN. #Duh
But if we can simply accept that sabotage, while a great high in the short run, seriously sucks long-term (much like living on Twinkies and hard liquor). If we can just deal with THAT truth? Everything else becomes easier to endure.
If we can appreciate success (however you define it) is a lot of same ol’ same ol’ and that most people won’t give a fig about what we are doing or not doing…then we can move on with it and enjoy a life rich with meaningful accomplishments.
We can rear non-serial killer kids, build enduring friendships, find joy in small moments of mundane…and we can keep writing sucky books. Write sucky books and finish sucky books and eventually the sucky books start being less sucky and maybe even one day are GENIUS.
Won’t know unless we finish.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Do you find yourself getting stuck because every day looks so much like the day before? It seems so far to the finish line that you start taking a break here and there only to wake up and realize you’ve not written in months? Do you change your mind, diet, goals, plans, more than my kid changes socks?
***Hint: That is A LOT.
In the modern world of publishing, do you struggle with celebrating accomplishments because—short of landing your own HBO series—being a published author doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal?
Do you struggle with feeling like a fraud? Wonder if your writing really is any good or if maybe you should consider learning how to do medical billing instead?
Are you frustrated with the world of popularity contests? With the push to be plugged in ALL THE TIME? I am.
Business idea. Someone PLEASE open a salon that forbids electronics. I miss going to get my hair done and chatting with other women. Now they all stare at tablets like zombies.
I LOVE hearing from you!
Really, I do. Y’all give me fresh perspectives. But if I don’t hear from you? That’s cool, too, because I have books to finish. And now that I am FINALLY through all my dental surgeries (I hope), new classes to create.
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