May I make a confession to you?
I really feel like I should be “further along in my career” than I am.
I get frustrated that my rates aren’t as high as they should be for someone who’s been doing this for as long as I have.
I sigh and shake my head when I think about how I never moved into the (very lucrative) niches that I know I could totally and completely rock… if I just made the effort to break in.
I get mad at myself for not having an awesome signature course out there. For not rocking Pinterest. For not making more money.
I ruminate on all these things because, ultimately, these are shortcomings — if not failures — and they’re my fault.
I’m the one who didn’t raise my rates fast enough. I’m the one who never wrote the spec white paper. I’m the one who still hasn’t executed on the course (which is going to be GREAT when it does launch).
But here’s the real kicker:
I’m totally and completely capable of doing all those things I want to do. I just … don’t do them … because I self-sabotage.
What is self-sabotage?
You’ve probably heard the phrase self-sabotage in some context, usually in relationships or health. We know what we say we want, but then we do things that prevent the outcome we supposedly want… for some “unknown” reason.
Sometimes the reason truly is unknown and we have no idea we’re doing it until someone calls us out or we have a spontaneous come-to-Jesus.
Other times… it’s practically conscious. Ever helped yourself to a second brownie after a mediocre workout while thinking “I shouldn’t do this, but who cares?”
(Yeah, me neither….)
There are all kinds of reasons we self-sabotage, but as best I can tell, it comes down to this seemingly ridiculous thing:
Fear of success.
Which seems utterly crazy.
Success is AWESOME. Success is what we all want! Success means life is better, easier, smoother, whatever.
What’s there to fear about success?
Turns out, a lot.
My personal struggle with self-sabotage and fear of success
Last year I had the great pleasure of going through a pilot program offered by one of my role models for life and business. The program was all about simplifying and beautifying all aspects of your life (and work) by implementing systems, routines, and habits that work for you and by “letting go” of things that aren’t working anymore.
I learned a lot during the program and I think I grew — in some ways I didn’t appreciate at the time, hahaha — but one of the things that those 12 weeks of deep introspection and close examination of my life did was cause all my existential angst to bubble up and scream to be dealt with.
Sounds fun, right? So much fun.
I knew I’d been frustrated with myself and my business, not understanding why I’d been putting in so much “effort” and seeing so little in terms of real results. I’d been “trying to build something” for years at that point, and still had nothing to show for it.
Eventually it hit me:
I was afraid of success.
And after some tears and a ton of “what the heck does that even mean” and quite a few conversations and Google searches… I figured out what my real problem was.
It all started way back when…
Growing up, I wasn’t always sure that I wanted to have kids, but I knew that if I ever did, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I never felt like I needed or wanted a lot of money, so I was (and still am) perfectly happy to live frugally and “be the mom,” so to speak.
Then the unthinkable happened, and I was pregnant and about to be divorced. I was already living pretty frugally and had been careful to avoid any debt, so I buckled down and decided to make it work with freelancing. And it worked! It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
Eventually I remarried… to someone who was starting a new career… one that requires several years of ramp-up time before there’s a solid income rolling in. I needed to continue working.
For me, 2014 was a year of tremendous growth in my business. Then 2015 was complete stagnation and even backsliding to an extent (there was a time when I lost 90% of my clients all in the span of about a week!). In 2016, I took a bit of time off with the newborn and then developed all kinds of big plans to grow and scale and launch.
And I didn’t do any of it. I just… didn’t do it.
Sure, I dumped a bunch of money into training and programs and an expensive mastermind group. I went to seminars and I taught some in-person workshops that I never fully advertised (so the attendance was really low) and I even drove all the way up to Connecticut with my 3-month-old baby to attend a fantastic 2-day workshop….
And then I did nothing.
All because I was afraid to succeed
Success is different for every person. Could mean money. Could mean notoriety. Could mean being booked out 3 months.
Success to me basically means I’m working 10-15 hours a week and bringing in $50,000. Pretty specific. Also pretty attainable for someone of my calibre. I should have been there 18 months ago, arguably.
Fear of success is kind of a weird thing, and most people who are afraid to succeed have pretty cut-and-dry reasons for it.
They’re afraid to be “on the hook” for delivering high-value stuff.
They don’t want the scrutiny.
They can’t feel good about outshining their spouse (or their dad, or their whatever).
It wasn’t any of those things for me.
For me, I was afraid of succeeding as a work-at-home mom, by my own (oddly specific) definition by income level. So I sabotaged my way into not succeeding — into never being able to achieve that specific income.
Because to me — and this was my huge AHA epiphany late last year — succeeding in my business would validate me as a work-at-home mom, when all I ever wanted was to be a stay-at-home mom.
If my business ever grew to be a substantial portion of the income, it wouldn’t make sense for me to stop working and just be the mom. I would be setting myself up to be a major contributor, even a primary earner if things really took off. And you don’t quit when things have taken off.
So here’s how it felt, in a deep-down totally-raw sort of way:
Success in business meant failure as a mother.
At least, that’s what my deepest fears and insecurities told me.
So I sabotaged myself, over and over and over
For the longest time, I didn’t really have a choice. I needed to work, and that was that.
The options were to work outside the home and lean on childcare, or work from home and juggle it all as well as I could.
But as the day loomed when I wouldn’t necessarily have to work, things got weird.
Because I’ve been afraid of success — afraid of validating myself as the mom I never wanted to be and making it truly make sense to never be the “just” stay-at-home mom — I’ve been spinning my wheels for nearly two years now. I’ve grown my business just enough to take care of my family and fill in the gaps while my husband’s career becomes robust enough to take care of us.
But every time it’s been the opportune moment to do the next big thing, I stall out.
To clarify, I wouldn’t say I’ve failed.
To alleviate some of my existential angst, I started putting strict boundaries around work while focusing on raising my rates. This would allow me to work fewer hours while making equal or more money. Good business stuff.
As a result, my income grew, my hours went down, and I’m much more present for my kids than I was a year ago. We’re making memories and doing a lot of that “mommy” stuff I always wanted to do during the stressful years but never felt like I had the time or mental capacity for. These are all good, valuable things.
So I haven’t failed. I just haven’t succeeded — not in the business sense.
Not in the way I could have by now if I didn’t just sit with all these weird hangups for so long.
Now it’s time to do better
Once I had that epiphany (and a few tough conversations with some good, good people) I finally felt ready to make progress.
The main thing for me has been this: after years of struggle, I now get to choose whether I work or not, and after several weeks of thinking/talking/praying with James, I’m choosing to keep working.
I’m no longer “forced” into working (by divorce, single motherhood, or income instability from my husband’s growing career), and that’s made a huge change in how I “experience” being a work-at-home mom. Take your power back and all, I guess.
So now that I’m consciously, deliberately choosing to work, I’m choosing how I work with greater care and an eye on the goal, which is to finally (finally!) move into teaching in addition to my client work.
By reframing myself as someone with a choice, as opposed to someone with no choices, I have found tremendous freedom.
It’s no longer scary. I no longer feel like a failure. And while I do sometimes slip into “comparison-itis,” it turns into motivation rather than a whip for self-flagellation.
(Horrible visual there. Yikes.)
Lately I’ve been sidelined with morning sickness (and it is NO FUN) but that hasn’t kept me from stopping. Progress is at a snail’s pace, but it’s still happening.
I got my niche challenge rolling and it is so much fun (have you signed up?) and I’ve been having a great series of webinars for the folks on my list (you’re on the list, right?). In April, I plan to beta-launch my first course, which I am totally and completely thrilled to develop alongside the fantastic folks who sign up.
How I beat my own self-sabotage
As is typically the case, it took some deep digging to uncover the root cause(s) of my self-sabotage. For me, the roots go all the way back to childhood, to unmet expectations of my adult life, and an extreme conflict of interest that was unnecessary.
A critical part of the process was to speak that horribly painful epiphany out loud, to several people. The lesson here: figure out what your issue is and then put a bright light on it. Take that thing outside in the sunshine and dust it off so you can get a good look at it. See what others think about it, too.
For me, doing this was transformative.
Now I can choose to live in freedom. My life is what I make of it, my work is what I make of it, my motherhood is what I make of it, and I’m extremely fortunate and grateful that none of this has to be a battle. My kids don’t have to be pitted against my work. My success in business can and should be celebrated, because it means my husband and I can give our children a more vibrant childhood (not to mention a more vibrant mother).
And because I’m the boss, I get to control the workflow, which means I get to control how much I’m working and slow down if it ever encroaches too much on my time with the kids.
There’s complete freedom here… a freedom I haven’t felt in years. I feel like I’m squinting in the sun after being stuck in a cave for a very long time.
But that’s good news.
Now that I know this truth about myself — that I was afraid of success, that I was afraid of being a great work-at-home mom because it meant I was NOT a stay-at-home mom — and can fully live into the reality that I can absolutely contribute to the family financially without detracting from my role as mom — it’s time to take the pressure off myself to SUCCEED and also NOT SUCCEED and… just get on track with the stuff I love to do — at home and in business.
Write for awesome clients. Connect with you, my brilliant readers. Share with other moms how to do this work-from-home thing by becoming freelance writers. And, of course, be the wife and mom.
We’re different but (maybe) the same
Many people go into freelancing because they have to work and it seems like a much better option than traditional jobs, for various reasons. Many go into working from home to bring in some extra money and support their families.
For some, it’s a choice. For others, it’s a necessity.
While you might not be able to choose whether or not to work (and I totally get that, because for many years I never had a choice, either), you can still choose how you will work and how you will define the role and the experience.
This is something I wish I learned a long time ago. My hope is that by sharing this with you, you’ll be able to have your own turning point without struggling against it for 7+ years (as I did).
If you ever feel like you’ve hit a wall, don’t worry. It happens to all of us. The task becomes figuring out why the wall is there. Once you know why, you can work on how to get through it.
If you’d like some support on your own freelance writing journey, I’d love to chat with you. Join my email list to get updates on classes I’m teaching and free resources I have for you. You can also email me any time you’d like. I read every message.
You’ve got this, mama. And I’ve got you.