For many years I sabotaged my career and personal success by just not choosing a direction, or by putting minimal effort into my career choices. Not making a choice is still a choice. Looking back, I see that I was afraid of failure and success. Failure would mean the possible humiliation of having tried and not cutting it publicly; and, success would mean I would be put out of my comfort zone regularly. I would have to take big risks and expose myself to potential failure. I would have to admit my weaknesses and seek help from others. That way of thinking got in my way for a long time. Through years of feeling stuck, frustrated, and like I was on the wrong path, I finally started to question this way of thinking. Do I really need to tie my personal worth to my career status? Do I really want to make choices based on fear? I did a lot of personal work and finally came to a place where I felt confident enough to take bigger risks. I now understand self-sabotage through a much clearer and more compassionate lens. 

Career Self-Sabotage

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is a conscious or unconscious decision to undermine your goals and success. This can happen in many different contexts, but I will focus on the career domain.

How to identify career self-sabotage?

Career self-sabotage is any self-imposed roadblock you engage with due to fear of what will happen if you succeed or fail to achieve a goal. That might look like turning down a promotion you know you are qualified for, procrastinating on a high-stakes project, or choosing to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Why do we self-sabotage our careers?

Self-sabotage can be seen as a way to protect ourselves from experiencing feelings like disappointment, pain, embarrassment, and shame. All of us try to protect ourselves from negative feelings on a regular basis. Self-sabotage is just one way of coping with pain, or the anticipation of pain in life.

The best ways to manage self-sabotage of your career:

  • Practice self-compassion with setbacks, challenges, and mistakes.
  • Learn to celebrate the small wins so you can embrace the big wins as well.
  • Challenge negative self-talk and negative views of self.
  • Be mindful of the emotional states and feelings which exacerbate this cycle.
  • Work to identify and address the underlying beliefs and fears driving this behavior.
  • Understand how your history shapes the way you experience success/failure and see yourself.
  • Set boundaries, when needed. Learn to identify when saying no to something that serves you and when it doesn’t serve you.
  • Check-in to see if your choices align with your values and who you are.
  • Work with a mental health therapist to get to the root of the behavior, process your feelings around this, and establish healthier ways of coping.

Embrace the Process

I still have moments when I want to turn and run, or freeze and do nothing. I sometimes feel terrified of where I have found myself and the thought that I might let myself or others down in a big way. It is a constant battle I have learned to acknowledge as something that will recur for me. The point is, I have learned to question it. I haven’t just accepted it at face value. Working with a therapist has been helpful. Over time, I decided I would fight the internal critic. I have learned to remind myself of the things I know to be true and to act according to those truths. It is an act of faith, sure. But the more I have practiced doing that, the easier it has become. The more I courageously move forward and take career risks, the longer the list of accomplishments I can mentally review when I fear I can’t cut it and want to burn it all down to the ground.I used to see people I viewed as “successful” as not struggling with these same issues. After many years of mentorship under very successful therapists in my field, I have come to view the impulse to self-sabotage one’s career as a normal part of the growth process. In order to grow and learn you must take risks. Taking risks brings up a lot of questions and fears. It brings us into the “discomfort zone.” Managing this issue means learning to train our minds, to understand it, to reframe it, and to act according to the information you believe is true. You can sit with and acknowledge the feelings and learn to manage them. These emotions provide a new perspective into areas of life that need attention. After reflection, when you choose not to succumb to those emotions, you can exercise agency and choose another way forward. You can feel less afraid of what is to come after the act of not self-sabotaging.As the stakes get higher, the impulse to self-sabotage does not necessarily dissipate. It can even become more intense. You should come to expect this as a sign of growth, learning to anticipate it so you can better manage it along the way. When you stop to think, “What is going on here? Why do I have this urge to self-sabotage right now?” you gain valuable insight. Perhaps you are on the precipice of something new, challenging, exciting, stretching, or terrifying. It would be a shame to let that impulse drive your future rather than allowing yourself to venture into the realms of the unknown. I have found that when I stop to question the voice that tells me to play it safe with self-sabotage and choose to take a risk, I am surprised and delighted by the unfolding journey.

Start Counseling with a Seattle Therapist

If you are struggling with self-sabotaging patterns in your job and career, you are not alone. Maybe this shows up for you in patterns of procrastination, perfectionism, or downplaying your accomplishments. You might struggle with taking risks to speak up, ask for what you want, and advocate for yourself in the workplace. Perhaps you know you are not meeting your full potential. If you are ready to break this pattern of self-sabotage in your career, our highly skilled therapists can support you on this journey. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with us today and see if we are a good fit for you.