“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”– Thomas J. Watson
Recently, I have been consistently feeling staggeringly overwhelmed by the weight of my own failures. It’s taken me a little time and some much-needed insight to start figuring out what all this high level of anxiety, irritability, anger, confusion, and despair has really been about.
It shook me up pretty hard-core when it fully dawned on me:
For the past solid decade, I’ve been self-sabotaging.
It all started with my first college experience. I was insanely involved, getting straight A’s, being awarded all manner of special honors, and otherwise considered a Big Fish In A Small Pond.
Then, in the second semester of my second year, everything fell apart at the seams. I had developed an eating disorder, landed myself in my first depression, and got the very first ‘F’s of my life. I was in conflict with several authorities at school and everything about my life at that time felt bleak and unmanageable.
In the end, I dropped a chemistry class that I otherwise would have flunked, spoiled my perfect GPA with a ‘C’ in microbiology, and realized with deep sadness that I had been wasting my time and energy on a path (i.e. becoming a doctor) that was very, very wrong for me.
Because I had been channeling myself into a dead-end, I was also detracting from what I truly love (e.g. music) and ruining my opportunities/experiences in that area as well –i.e. I was studying with a world-class pianist, but hardly practicing and also totally botching performances.
It was highly embarrassing and I felt so ashamed and worthless.
That was when I was just 20 years old. Now I am nearly 30. Since that first remarkable self-sabotaging experience in college, this freight train of failures has been picking up steam.
Chronologically-speaking, I then went on to au-pair in Italy, which was initially a total dream –my first time living abroad, learning Italian, seeing the Swiss Alps from my backyard, traveling, making friends … Then, I ultimately left for home early because my relationships with my host family had devolved into massive fireworks. We have not stayed in touch.
Then, I continued my bachelor’s degree at a new institution and was the star player in my whole department in terms of my abilities. Yet again, just in the home stretch, all my relationships with the professors in my department went completely to pot and I left on very poor terms with literally all of them.
Meanwhile, I broke off a marriage engagement and, then, several months later trapped myself into an abusive relationship. Then, I got an exciting job that ended in the company collapsing and was also fired (for the very first time) from my other job of the time.
I then started my own business, which grew rapidly and then imploded. After a short 1.5 years, my business had fallen to shambles — and nearly all my business relationships with it.
Once more, I left with my head hanging very low and feeling very small.
In another upturn, I was then offered the opportunity to essentially be paid for earning a master’s degree. As is the common theme, my graduate school experience started off great: I was well-liked and respected for my creativity, innovation, teaching and leadership skills.
But, at the end of my two years, my relationships with my professors had crumbled so severely that I was growing stomach ulcers that I named after each of them and was choosing all sorts of unhealthy coping strategies in my private life.
During all of these experiences, my relationships were highly troubled.
My relationships with my family members were contentious at best, my romantic relationships?! … don’t even get me started. Friendships, business relationships, colleagues, roommates, landlords, professors, bosses, you-name-it …
So many opportunities that had started off so promising all ended as a complete disaster. WHY!?
Because I’d been self-sabotaging.
All of this reflection was started because of more recent turbulent circumstances. My husband and I lived abroad because I was the recipient of a prestigious scholarship. Sounds great, right? Well, yet again and right at the tail end of things as typical, my work relationships and that with our landlord were rapidly decomposing. And I was supposed to have 3 months left to go there.
I’d seen other bad circumstances ‘through to the ugly, bitter end’ out of some false sense of commitment, or simply because of my ego --because I didn’t want to seem flakey, unreliable, crazy, extreme, etc.
But the freight train of self-sabotage is headed straight off a cliff.
In my experience, applying the brakes doesn’t slow the train down fast enough to truly be able to turn it around.
So, this time, instead of ‘riding it out’ …
I finally simply jumped off.
It can be a hard tumble — there are scrapes and bruises that will need some love and time to heal — and those watching might probably think you’re certifiably nuts. But you’ve been contemplating this for a while and you’re ready to take the plunge.
At least, that’s where I was at. And it has proven to be a great choice.
When you reflect on your own life, do you also discover high highs and low lows? I’ve found that those highs are a clue as to who my best and highest self is … and those lows are evidence of the self-sabotage keeping me from always living in that high, glorious place of abundance, freedom, and joy. If that resonates with you, too, then read PART TWO of this series for more of my story and how the insights I’ve discovered for myself might apply to your life as well.