Undermining your own success

Years ago, I was seeking help from a psychologist for issues around depression. I had been feeling like despite all my efforts, my goals and dreams were not being realized as I saw fit. After listening to me go on for some time, she asked me flatly, “Is it possible that you’re undermining your own success?”

I was horrified and insulted by her question, not even sure what she meant. How on earth could I be undermining my own success, I remember thinking to myself. And why on earth would I do something like that? My nose-to-the-grindstone, focused, nearly-obsessive, hard-working mind disagreed with her assessment, but deep down the comment stuck with me and I puzzled over it. It wasn’t until I stepped back from my career into motherhood and to recover from intense burnout that I began to realize there was a modicum of truth in her words. And it wasn’t just in reference to my career, but my entire approach to life.

After much reflection and observation, I realized that self-undermining can be so subversive and insidious, if you’re not be inscrutably honest with yourself you will miss it. In fact, your ego wants you to. It wants you to blame everyone and everything but yourself. And the biggest disguise it opts for is guilt.

I first began to notice the blame game. Why shouldn’t I follow my career track? Surely it was my partner’s evil intentions to thwart the difficult lifestyle that came along with it. Or my terribly innate sense of practicality that disallowed me from investing in my own dreams. Or the gargantuan logistics of trying to be a working mother amongst raising children and maintaining a house.

But then after fights, more bouts of depression, concessions made, and my partner going above and beyond to  accommodate my desires, there was still a niggling voice. A resistance. A voice saying “you shouldn’t”. The guilt. You shouldn’t go to that event even though the baby’s already sleep. You shouldn’t go on that trip even though hubby says it’s ok. You shouldn’t get a nanny for the day even though you can afford it.

Why not? I asked myself repeatedly. The response I got was hazy. A combination of feeling like it was maybe just not my place in the world to even have these desires in the first place. Maybe I was asking too much. Maybe I was reaching too far. Maybe it just wasn’t me.

But who the hell is “me” anyways? I began to wonder. A morphing organism from one moment to the next. And that’s when it hit me. I am what I give myself. And I am what I withhold.

In that moment I saw how the therapist was right. All these years I had undermined my own intentions simply by allowing myself to doubt my own desires. This had gone beyond holding a goal up to one’s value system and making sure it aligns. It had transformed into perpetual self-doubt. I was withholding from myself my capacity to truly own my thoughts and dreams.

And thus started a shift. I began to articulate my needs better and more firmly. To myself, and to others. I heard my own voice say the words, “I need this.” without rushing to add superficial explanation. Consequently these moments felt quite relaxed. I didn’t have to earn the right, or force anything to happen, or bust my ass to prove my worth. My needs didn’t even need to be filled right in that moment. But eventually they would because they were my truth and I stood behind them wholeheartedly. More importantly, I didn’t need anyone else to buy into them. I wasn’t necessarily proud of them, or more confident that my dreams would come true. All I needed to do is to contain them wholeheartedly, and combined with my hard work, let them find their own ways of expression.

And so I am getting back on my path, keeping my eyes open for sneaky undermining tendencies, and clearing the way as I walk.

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