The self-sabotage behind our failures

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

I have failed…” How many times have you said this to yourself throughout your life? I think I’ve last said it about a month ago. Failure in itself is not something bad. We all have to fail at some point, in order to make progress. Failure as an isolated event is part of a learning process, but it can be beneficial only with the right attitude. Even in work-related projects we use the expression “fail fast” meaning literally that: if we did something wrong, we want to fail fast so we can recover fast, before doing too much damage. That implies to confront failure with analysis and action: see what went wrong and do something to correct it.

Yet, a more common behaviour of dealing with failure is running away from it and by doing so, we maintain the negative feeling and we start chipping our self-esteem. If running away becomes a habit, it turns to what we call “a familiar state” and the biggest issue with that is that we – as humans – always tend to fall back to what is familiar (be it bad or good).

Our society, our whole social system is designed to make us feel prone to failure – and that is so false… The vast majority of school systems are competitive ones: they rely on grades and create hierarchies based on them, instead of encouraging collaboration and practical, hands-on, knowledge. Parents make it worse by comparing their child to others (“Michelle did better than you”), setting high standards (“in our familly everyone was brilliant”) or asking what the others kids did in the test instead of encouraging their own child.

Whatever our age, we can always be affected by criticism if it comes from someone, WE consider to be a figure of authority (could be a lover, an expert, a parent, a friend or just someone we respect), in that particular domain.

If we were accustomed / educated to run away from failure (and most of us were), instead of embracing it, as adults we self-sabotage ourselves in several ways:

  • we don’t take the actions we need in order to gain new skills: we don’t finish courses we start,  we don’t learn from experts or we just don’t put in enough effort, we don’t want to be the “rookie” again
  • we face the Impostor syndrome
  • we don’t keep focus (a lack of self-discipline, which is a learned behaviour, not a natural one)
  • we minimize what we can do and take roles under our real level of knowledge, because we lack confidence in what we can do
  • we tend to (over)compensate either through association with a successful partner and live in his/her shadow or best case through another behaviour (looks, flirt or self-sacrifice)

The problem with everything I’ve listed above is that it’s all meant to return you to a known state: the familiarity of being a failure. A pure self-sabotage.

The good news is that it’s all a matter of attitude. Look at the list, identify which one applies to you, become aware, then start fighting it. There is no birth deficiency, lack of talent or incompetence. It’s just avoidance. Avoidance to do the right things.


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