Life of the Freelancer: Fighting Never Enough & Wrangling Saboteurs
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
I had a day where I felt like I did nothing. Where my inner critic, on repeat, complained: Look at you, you worthless slug, unable to leave the house, accomplishing nothing in your pajamas at your desk. In reality, not only did I leave the house today, but I was up to my usual herculean check-listing: Lunch downtown with a museum director, a trip to the VW dealership, responding to countless emails, applying for a facilitation job, prepping food for the week, coaching clients, cutting my own hair. Just to name half.
And - as I now sit in my bathrobe, well deserving beverage in hand, half listening to the Dodgers play the World Series in the next room I think - when will it ever be enough?!
I've been a hyperachiever my whole life. Let me re-frame: I've had a hyperachieving saboteur my whole life. This particularly insidious, hamster-wheel of a voice in my head has claimed
energy and space in my life for as long as I can remember. The activity (or inactivity), achievement, success, accolades or action I've done in given period of time is never. ever. enough. You know the one - acceptance to college? Could've done better. Quitting your job? Not half as brave as that one. Taking a pause to (horror) enjoy the end of the work day? Sweetheart, do you REALLY think you've earned it?
It'd be easy to blame my parents for this complex, but they are clearly not the source of this saboteur. I remember at 12 years old bringing home in trembling hands a less than perfect score on a math test - my least favorite subject, and always a dogged fight to get passing grades - and my parents met me with hugs and understanding nods, even as I burst into inconsolable tears. I couldn't let myself off the hook for being less than perfect. Saboteurs at their most basic are coping mechanisms, developed when we were small to ensure we survived childhood and adolescence, assisting us in critical moments to attract the right kind of attention or deflect the wrong kind of attention and navigate potential threats to keep us safe -- which in my case was safe from middle class suburbia and academic mediocrity. However, after a certain point, we outgrow our need for these base instincts and are able to navigate our complex and largely non-threatening adult lives with some degree of psychological maturity.
And yet, the voices persist long past their usefulness.
It's easy to want to tell the saboteur voice, the inner critic, to take a permanent hike off my local Griffith Park cliff. They're persistent, annoying, sneaky, totally relentlessness and they rob us consistently of the joy of being in the moment. What's more is they can rob us of taking needed, essential action into change. Of course they will always argue for their imperative usefulness - for example, to keep us hungry, ambitious, active, successful - without them, they claim, we will dissolve into lazy, worthless mush.
Saboteurs are fear personified. They can be harbingers of the exciting and constructive change that is on the horizon; a sign that you are moving out of your comfort zone. Yet,
the fear-based thinking only ever serves to keep us in paralysis and negativity. So if you're up to big change - if you've just quit your job to pursue your life's passion, or moved across the country, or are asking for a raise, or said I love you for the first time, or started parenting - time to get familiar with the following saboteur management techniques: 1) Befriend your saboteurs. While it's easy to condemn these voices, finding out ways to love them, to make them work for you, to be gentle but firm with them will ultimately dissipate their energy and allow you to get back to the important work of making change happen, with the critical rap on low volume. 2) Find ways to work around them. The more creative the better! I've had clients imagine muting the volume of their saboteurs, shrink them down to three inches high, write out a dialogue with them, or draw an exaggerated cartoon sketch to add humor and definition to the irrational, insatiable energy and learn to laugh at it when it appears. 3) Return to your bigger game. When saboteurs pop up (and they will until the end of time, if we're living into our full potential), you can use it as a moment to return to your center, the core of your purpose, the reason that you're up to this change. Who are you becoming? Why are you on this journey? What do you know to be more true than the fear that's speaking to you now?
At the end of the day, the saboteurs are not going to prevent us from making change.
We're moving forward, dears, and you get to decide who you want to listen to and put in the drivers seat. The gentler, more patient, more loving you can be with that freaked out old child-fear of your inner critic, the more you will find yourself, over time, generating moments of pure inner quiet, where no saboteur voices are to be found and your leader self moves into purposeful change, like a ship sailing forward on a calm sea.
And that is what we're seeking in crazy courageous quest: a chance to move forward in integrity into our best lives. For my part, I'm signing off to celebrate my day of accomplishment, putting my hyperachiever down for her daily nap, and allowing the inner quiet to be tonight's reward.