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Three ways you might be self-sabotaging in your business
In today’s episode, I’m talking about self-sabotage – or some of the ways you might be holding yourself back in your business.
We self-sabotage in all kinds of ways from hiding, to thinking too small, to waiting for permission or approval from someone else to proceed. But today I’m going to cover three of the ways I’m seeing a lot lately – or even that I’m experiencing myself.
My hope is, by the end of this episode, you’ll find a little bit more courage or bravery to take a look at the ways you might be holding yourself back in YOUR business. So if deep down you know this, or you know you’re capable of more but you’re telling yourself stories about why you can’t (or worse, shouldn’t) actually do it, this episode is for you.
What you'll learn in this episode:
- Three ways women self-sabotage in their businesses: 1) Having a fixed vs. growth mindset, 2) Deferring to your unofficial Chairman of the Board, and 3) Getting stuck in nurturer mode
- How to recognize when we’re sabotaging our own efforts, and what to try instead
- A few ways I’ve self-sabotaged recently and what I’m doing about it
- Why I think “side gig” and “side hustle” are words that keep women stuck
- How we’re socialized to not focus on our own business success
Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living life to the fullest. When we fear big, we either consciously or subconsciously work against it.
– Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The One Thing
I’ll admit I was a little nervous last week about posting my first solo episode about why I want you to stop being so nice at work, but your feedback was so supportive and encouraging that I am going to continue. I’ve actually never received so much feedback – so many emails and texts – after an episode as I did last week so I’m so happy that the topic resonated with so many of you, and I would be thrilled to continue with topics that you’re interested in, so please feel free to email me at Janet@beambitiousforher.com if you’d like to suggest one that is a burning issue for you and your business. Or hit me up on Twitter @beambitious4her, instagram @beambitiousforher or on facebook at Be Ambitious For Her.
OK today I want to talk about self-sabotage – or some of the ways you might be holding yourself back or in your business. We self-sabotage in all kinds of ways from hiding, to thinking too small, to waiting for permission or approval from someone else to proceed. But today I’m going to cover three of the ways I’m seeing a lot lately – or even that I’m experiencing myself.
To get yourself in the right framework for this, spend a moment right now to come up with a few things you think you can’t do, or that the voices in your head that are telling you “that’s too scary” or “That’s not for me”, but at the same time, you’re blaming your lack of business success or forward movement on these very same things because you KNOW they’re holding you back.
I’m reading the book “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, right now and there’s a great line that says, “Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living life to the fullest. When we fear big, we either consciously or subconsciously work against it.” And that’s what I want to talk about today.
My hope is, that by the end of this, you’ll find that little bit more courage or bravery to take a look at the ways that you’re holding yourself back in YOUR business. So if deep down you know this, or you know you’re capable of more but you’re telling yourself stories about why you can’t (or worse, shouldn’t) actually do it, this episode is for you.
While I’m reviewing these, if you identify with any of the self-sabotaging behaviours, think about how you’ll have to grow, how you’ll have to think bigger, how you need to view these invisible barriers from a new perspective to get past them in your business? While they might sound very firm, and real, and becoming the person you have to be to get past them seems scary, the truth is that often when you try something new and succeed, you realize it wasn’t as hard or scary as you thought it would be before you tried it. And this stronger, braver, bigger thinking version of you has a completely new perspective of what you’re capable of. Even if it ends up being just as hard as you thought, what’s possible on the other side of trying? What might you learn, or how might you grow by trying a solution outside your comfort zone?
If you’re like most people, you put all kinds of reasons, excuses and explanations in front of yourself that stop you from taking what you think of as scary actions or prevent you from building your business courageously. And you might think these reasons are perfectly valid because the self-sabotaging voices in your head present them that way. They sound really logical and they make a lot of sense to you right now. Their whole intention is to keep you feeling comfortable and safe, and doing what they think are the right things. So they can be pretty convincing. And some of them might even be right…for now. The challenge is to figure out how they’re actually encouraging you to hide, or to play it safe and small, and how you can get around them and quiet them or plan so that they don’t stop you from you going exactly where you want to go with your business.
The new mindset that I want you adopt requires some resourcefulness but I already know you’re resourceful because a) you’re listening to this podcast and b) you’ve already come up with an idea that allows you to work for yourself. But now you might just need to be resourceful in a new way, and I know that sounds scary. And it’s a whole lot easier to hide behind all of your reasons why it won’t work. But these quote unquote reasons are typically just covering up for your fears. Fears that if you really want to grow and take on new challenges you have to do something different – or somehow BE different – in your business and that feels scary right now. So you come up with all the reasons why it won’t work for you to give you an out and make it okay that you’re not taking on those challenges. But the truth is, most of these reasons are just limiting stories that you come up with in a bid to keep you safe from the potential pitfalls of putting yourself in your business out there to be judged or that it might fail.
So, let’s start breaking down a few of the ways we self-sabotage in our businesses:
- the first way is having a fixed vs growth mindset
- second is what I call having an unofficial Chairman of the Board – hint – it’s not you!
- And third is staying stuck in nurturer mode
All three can show up in many different ways, but I’ll share a few stories I’m seeing – or experiencing myself – lately.
Let’s start with the first one – having a fixed mindset. This is the mindset that tells you everything that is happening right now, or has happened in the past, is how your life, or your abilities, will always be. It focuses on failures as evidence that you ARE the thing you failed at. So if you fail a math test, “Of course I failed – I’m terrible at math”. It’s a limiting mindset where there’s no room for growth, opportunity or change.
One example of this is saying something like, “I know my business could be so much more successful if only I was tech savvy.”
I have a secret for you. No one was tech savvy until they learned how to be. And absolutely it’s as simple as that. Even if it’s not your favourite thing to learn about, the internet is literally packed with people offering courses, workarounds and tools for those of us who don’t want to go back to school to become tech experts. It just means you have to do a little bit of research or ask someone else for help.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who told me she wasn’t getting hired for the jobs she wants and is qualified for because she’s in her 50s and can’t do social media so they always hire someone younger.
Can you spot the fixed mindset language in that statement?
If not, I’ll share with you the tough love I shared with her — I wouldn’t hire someone who uses their age as an excuse to stop learning either. This is not only self-limiting language, but it tells an employer and everyone else that you’ve given up, you’re no longer willing to learn, and that you’re only bringing the skills you already have to the job – but that they shouldn’t expect growth. And I don’t use this example to shame her, or criticize her at all, because there are so many people who feel this way. And trust me, we all think this way in SOME area of our lives, so this is just one example.
So if you’re a Gen X or a baby boomer woman and you’re struggling with feeling not quite up to speed with tech or social media, hear me now: your phone or your computer isn’t set to self-destruct if you were born before 1985 and you log into social media! I’m being facetious of course, but this is such a common excuse I hear from women who grew up when I did in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s when social media and the internet as we know it didn’t even exist, but who are otherwise brilliant, experienced and VERY capable women. To this I say there’s nothing more democratic than social media. It’s quite literally available to everyone with an internet connection and the barriers to entry for the majority of people like you (who have the privilege of running your own business), are low. You don’t even have to take a course to learn how to use it – just log in and give it a try. Watch what other people are doing and use it in your own way. If you truly believe you’re too old for social media, then YOU are the only thing standing in your way. And you’re preventing opportunities from coming your way that might otherwise be perfect for you.
Look at author Margaret Atwood – if you’re Canadian you know to whom I’m referring, if not, she’s the author of the Handmaid’s Tale and many other fabulous books. She’s going to be 80 this year. And she’s a social media Wiz. She has close to 64,000 followers on Instagram alone, is incredibly active on Twitter and is clearly not letting her age hold her back. And why should she? It’s time to be honest with yourself that if you’ve been using this as a reason it’s probably just an excuse. And here’s the important part – it’s not that you can’t, it’s that you just don’t want to. And so now that you have this new awareness, I have a new question for you. How does knowing this make you feel about this made up techy roadblock you’ve placed in your path? Are your business goals important enough to you to remove the block that you placed there?
There can actually be a lot of power in saying you don’t want to do something, but you give your power away by saying “I can’t because” and then tack on whatever your excuse is. This fixed mindset keeps you attached in a negative way to the thing you really don’t want to do anyway, and you’re allowing yourself to hide behind not pursuing your goal by making excuses that sabotage any success you might have otherwise.
You may not like social media and that’s totally fine — don’t use it in your personal time. But we’re long past the point where most businesses can succeed without it. Your customers expect that you’ll try to figure out ways to meet them where they are and to stay in business you WILL have to find ways to do this.
The way I see it, you have two choices, acknowledge that you know you probably need it but don’t particularly want to do it and learn how anyway, in which case you’ll probably realize your fears were unfounded and the thing that scared you really wasn’t that scary to begin with, or completely let it go and move on in a new direction. There really isn’t a third choice – unless you count keeping yourself tethered to something that’s holding you back in this way, which does nothing but continue your frustration and keep you stuck.
I’ll offer you this suggestion for next time you hear yourself saying, “I wish I could but…or I can’t because”. Let’s say your objection is “I’m not good at social media”. Try reframing that sentence to say, “I’m not very good with social media….yet. But I’m learning” OR, instead of “It’s too late for me to pick up new skills at this point in my career,” say “I’m a resourceful entrepreneur. I’ve done hard things in the past, and I’m capable of more? I’m learning to be better with social media so I can keep my business top of mind with my customers” Or something like that. Pretty soon, you’ll start to believe yourself – in the same way you currently believe your own NEGATIVE self talk. When we say things, or believe them, our brains go on a hunt for evidence to prove ourselves right. You WILL come up with evidence to support this new, growth mindset of yours – promise.
For a personal example, I almost didn’t post this episode this week. I normally post on Wednesdays, but this week threw a few wrenches into my plans including a snow day for my kids, and a longer than expected vet appointment for my dog, among other things. And I quickly fell behind schedule. I said, out loud to my husband, “I’m just going to post this one next week. What’s another week? Ugh….I just can’t seem to keep to my schedule with this.” This morning, I woke up and realized I was doing exactly the thing I’m talking about here – staying fixed in my failure mindset, instead of finding a new, resourceful way to stick to my original plan. So what if it’s not Wednesday? Whose rule is that, anyway? What’s wrong with posting it on Thursday evening? And you know what happened? I feel great about getting it out there, off my plate and even contributing my own learning to it. The point is, having either a fixed or a growth mindset are both habits. So which one do you choose to work on?
The second way we self-sabotage is deferring to our unofficial Chairman of the Board.
This shows up like this kind of statement: “I know I could really kick ass in my business if I could just invest in it and help it grow but my husband’s or partner’s job or business are the priority and I really can’t risk that”, or “I’m happy doing my work that’s all that matters because my partner’s business brings in the mortgage or grocery money anyway.”
In this example, you treat your business as an after thought, a side gig, a hobby, or something you do “just for me” to keep yourself busy. You tell yourself you don’t really need this business to make real money because it’s not paying the mortgage or grocery bills anyway.
If you say these things to yourself regularly, take a deep breath and ask yourself right now – are these statements true? Does it really feel good enough to be working this hard and not making “real money” that contributes to your family or your own financial freedom? If you’re truly happy with the status quo and the way you’re working, you’ll feel fine about your answer and that’s great. But if you think they might be true but also have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that feels like things could be different, but you feel stuck in the status quo, it’s probably because you’re self-sabotaging.
I read an article in the Harvard Business Review yesterday titled, “If you can’t find a spouse who supports your career, stay single”. And it reports that although many men are happy to have successful, high earning wives, this support only extends to the point that their own careers aren’t jeopardized. And while so many more men these days speak supportively about feeling ok with being out-earned by their spouses, as soon as it comes to doing the heavy lifting at home or with the kids in order to support their wives’ career, many men are still opting out. And the story highlights data showing millennial men, who are often believed more progressive and portrayed as more enlightened, are in fact even less committed to true equality than their elders. I’ve seen this in action. A young entrepreneur I knew through my former work once told me he figured he’d never get married because it would be close to impossible to find a woman who would support his immense ambition. I invited him to look at it from a woman’s perspective and asked how much he’d be willing to support hers. And I never heard back from him. Not even an “ah yeah I can see where you’re coming from!”…just crickets.
So yes – this may be the most real or true roadblock of the three ways we self-sabotage I’m talking about today – because it can feel like someone else is actually sabotaging us. And they may actually be. But if you’ve never had a conversation about it, it’s possible that even this is not insurmountable – it still requires a mindset shift to get past. We have to stop looking for permission to make our businesses what we want them to be. Think about it – if you can’t behave autonomously in your business, you’re still an employee. If you have an unofficial Chairman of your board (and it’s not you), it’s time for a talk with your partner about how you can work together within your family to support your goals equally. Where do you need support? How could your partner contribute to the household in different ways that would allow you to prioritize your business the way you need and want to? What work have you done to determine how much (or even how little) investment might be required to move your business ahead before you made the decision that its just impossible?
You might want to compare ways that your family already invests in your partner’s job or business – from commuting expenses to clothing required for their job, lunches out at restaurants among other things. Talk about any investment required for your business to grow in the same manner and then figure out how to make it happen. What you might realize is just by doing this, is that you get a much better handle on the cost of running your business, and you might even come up with a few creative or innovative ways to get around making a big investment until you can better afford to. But don’t just give up because you’ve decided your business isn’t the A1 priority. Be resourceful…think creatively about how you could make it a priority and truly know the ways that you’ve made it second fiddle by default – the idea that our partner’s business or job is A1 really is default thinking for a lot of us – because we’ve been socialized to think this way. So how can you shift that paradigm in your partnership so that you’re both fulfilled in your careers?
I’ll share a way that something similar came up for me recently. Last week before I released the episode about not being nice at work, I asked my husband listen to it first and he had some really great constructive feedback that I used to make a few changes, and some other feedback that I instantly internalized and that made me feel like I needed to go back to the drawing board entirely. I was really frustrated because he wasn’t really getting the message that I was trying to convey about women and our need to be seen as a nice at work and what we should do instead. And it really bothered me because I felt so connected to this message and this problem. And I also thought what I was saying made a lot of sense.
But I realized pretty quickly that my episode wasn’t resonating for him because he’s a man. Therefore, not only is he not my target audience but he’s also not someone who has ever experienced what I was talking about! He couldn’t relate at all to the idea of feeling like you might be sacrificing a relationship by providing tough love or direct and needed feedback. And guess what, there are women out there who don’t understand what I’m talking about either and that is okay. They are also not my target audience. I was talking to women, for whom this is a problem and who might see this tough love as important for them. Who might then be able to use it to help themselves play bigger in their business.
I realized I needed to get out of my own way and stop seeking advice from the people who don’t share the problem I’m looking to solve. I realized fully in that moment that I was leaving decisions up to my unofficial board chair and completely absolving myself of authority, responsibility and power in my own business. My husband is a smart marketer, and I fully respect his opinions, but in this case, I had to ignore his advice and it was the right move. This was default thinking on my part – to believe that it mattered more what he thought than what I thought about this particular issue. And while I’ll still seek out his feedback on other things, when it comes to the opinion of my target audience, he’ll no longer be my sounding board. Lesson learned!
Being asked for our husbands to co-sign bank loans for our businesses, feeling like we have to get our partner’s permission before making a big move in our biz…these are all too familiar issues for self-employed women. I have no problem with your spouse being your ACTUAL board chair. But if he/she isn’t, don’t defer to them as if they are. Lean on them for support, bounce new ideas off them, but find a way to see YOURSELF as the final authority in your business. I talk a lot with my clients about finding their CEO voices. And this is a big part of that – learning to appreciate feedback from others, but also firmly understanding that YOU are the one who ultimately gets to decide what that feedback means to you in your decision making.
OK – The third way and final way I’m going to talk about today is staying stuck in nurturer mode.
I say this often because I truly believe it and see examples of it every day: we’ve been socialized to see women as nurturers instead of providers, and supporters instead of leaders (this applies to the Chair of the board scenario as well!). And so this shows up in SOOO many ways with female business owners. One of the most common ones is what I call Counting our clients money for them. This is where you make a judgment up front about your customer based on what you know about their life circumstances, or how YOU might approach this opportunity if it was presented to you, then adding in the idea that you want her to like you and all that adds up to offering an immediate discount – often even pre-emptively – or BEFORE the client has even raised an objection!
The reality is you have no idea how much she values what you’re offering, and now you’re never going to find out because you didn’t give her a chance to react to your ACTUAL value proposition. Most importantly though? It’s truly none of your business. It’s not your job to worry about what your customer can afford. You aren’t responsible for her personal finances or whether or not you’re providing options that are affordable for everyone. It’s your job to help her see your value and convince her your solution to her problem is the best one for her. It’s hers to decide if it fits her budget, her goals and her priorities. You’re also completely disempowering your business but also disempowering HER by taking away her responsibility to choose for herself. Let that idea sink in for a minute…because it’s such a big one for so many of us.
If you suffer from this form of self-sabotage, you have to find ways to stop nurturing your clients and customers to the detriment of your businesses. And you can do this in a few ways. First by getting really clear about who your target audience is and then serving only those people who want, need and can afford your offering. You’re always going to run into trouble when you step outside that definition because she’s going to realize quickly that you and your business aren’t really solving her problem, because you set it up for someone else in the first place.
Or you’ll struggle to understand why you’re not attracting the clients and customers you really want. But you’re never going to convert every prospect into a loyal customer anyway so please do yourself a favour and let go of that expectation. If someone doesn’t buy your product, or sign up for your service, it doesn’t mean you weren’t nice enough, or they don’t like you personally, or even that you didn’t treat them properly. It probably just means they’re not the audience for your product. And it might not even mean that — it might just mean, they’re not ready to buy right now. It certainly can mean you didn’t do a great job of convincing them of the value of your solution to their problem, but again…that’s a whole different problem and still not one that can be solved by being nicer, bending over backwards to add value, or discounting your product further.
When you seek to work with those people who value what you offer, and who need more of it in their lives, and who connect with you as the person to offer it to them, your business will grow.
This one also comes up so often in my conversations with women about how they handle money in their businesses. And this is a really important way that we hold ourselves back – by not believing that we have a real business or by not prioritizing it as such because we’re stuck in the nurturing role in our family partnership. And so, we think of our business as a side gig – and say things like, “As long as its fun for me…or it’s just for a little extra money anyway…or my business doesn’t pay the mortgage so as long as it doesn’t drain us….I’m ok”. I’d love us to stop talking about side gigs, or side hustles because it’s typically women who take these on and it perpetuates the thinking that we aren’t “providers”. And we tend to think of our businesses, when we call them this, as low on our priority lists.
When I ask women who think this way about their businesses about what their financial plan looks like for the rest of the year, or what is your forecast, or how did you do this quarter, lots of times they can’t answer answer and the vast majority admit to never thinking of their business in this way. They probably don’t have a plan, and they typically don’t have goals or numbers that they’re working towards. And their reasoning for this, that it’s like a nice to have if they make money in their business and it’s not urgent – it’s not a requirement – as long as it’s something that they enjoy doing and that keeps them busy. They also might say things like “I’m not really motivated by money – I just want to be happy with what I’m doing.”
If this is you take a really hard look at that answer and think to yourself, why am I doing this work either for free, for very little money or return, or in a way that doesn’t completely recognize my value in it’s fullest expression. Because it seems to me there are FAR easier ways of making NO money than running a business! If not for child care costs, many of these women would be far better off financially if they got a part time job. When you think about it that way, and if you knew that just by making only a few small changes, about how you perceive making money in your business you could change everything about how it operates or how it helps provide for your family, would you want to do that?
I think we believe that it’s going to be too hard. But too frequently, we actually haven’t done the work to find out because it’s scary. We’re scared we’ll find out we have to change something – or face something about ourselves that needs to change – and that feels like too much in the moment. But what if you could look at your business as something worth nurturing? What would be possible if you unloaded the idea that it has to take more work, more time or more money to make it work in the way it could? What if it’s as simple as changing your mind about what’s possible?
If you’re struggling with one of these three mental roadblocks, I hope you’ll try some of these suggestions. Write down your reactions after listening today and think about how you could change your actual results, simply by changing your mind about how you view the roadblocks you’ve placed in front of you.
I’m going to talk a lot more in the coming weeks about how the topic of money hangs so many women up in our businesses so if you’re struggling with an unhealthy or unsupportive money mindset right now, please stay tuned. I have lots of content planned for this topic and more. If you’re a first time listener, I hope you’ll go back into the archives and listen to some of my previous episodes. And if you’ve been a listener for a while, thanks so much for coming back and I hope you’ll join me again next time!