Have you ever thought you could conquer anything on earth- getting that raise, going for a run, not losing it on your kids all day, and so on, just to have “reality” set in the very next minute and all of the sudden you began to question how you could ever accomplish such a lofty goal? Yeah, me too. I envision my “reality” to be like a gray mist rising above the cold, hard ground, constantly at my heels. I call her Ifer, and there is no escaping her. No matter the circumstances, she is ready to stop me in my tracks. Ifer doesn’t want to see me risk, to change, to grow. Do not mistake Ifer for fear, she is far more unassuming and far more dangerous. Ifer is a jaded critic who has never played the game but still feels entitled to make useless, biting, and demoralizing commentary. Ifer is my saboteur, and she can devastate me in the blink of an eye.
“You can’t draw, so you’re not creative. You aren’t good at soccer, so fitness is unattainable. You lose your temper, so you’re a terrible mother. After having kids, you have a squishy belly, so you’re husband will never want to touch you again. You don’t read The New Yorker every week, so you’ll never be able to hold your own as an intellectual. Your kitchen needs some drywall work, so you should never invite people over. People don’t care what you have to say, stop speaking up. You aren’t valued, do NOT ask for a raise.” Ifer.
If my life were structured like a business, Ifer would be the Chief of Doubt and Stasis. Ifer would be the one that gets all of the eye rolls, deep sighs, and clenched jaws in meetings...and none of the invitations to happy hour. She’s protective and believes in safety, reliability, and the mundane. Ifer would show up in meetings and speak over the Chief Muse, whose ideas are ingenious, and authentic, and achieve the magic.
When I realized what was going on in my head | heart boardroom I got curious. Who was really in charge here? Why was I making decisions based on “I’ll fail” instead of “let’s try and see?” What was possible if I became more welcoming of failure? What have I REALLY got to lose? To really understand what was at stake, I had to personify my saboteur and get to know her a bit better. So I asked her some questions. I asked her thoughts on what I am capable of versus what I wish I was capable of (spoiler: I’m capable of any of it, but that bitch gets in my way) and who I am versus who I wish I were (spoiler: she said I’ll always fall short, no matter what...so I told her to shut the f*ck up).
Ifer’s there to keep my feet firmly planted where they are and to inhibit me from making a single step forward the rest of my days. If I only took Ifer’s advice, I could forecast the next 40 years with ease: middle-management, decent 401K, minivan, PTA, date nights once in awhile, probably a dog, and definitely taco Tuesday. Ifer doesn’t rock the boat. Instead, she will never miss an opportunity to make a blanket statement about how unworthy or incapable I am of achieving the magic. But is that what I want? What I deserve? What I need?
(Resounding *NO* to each of those.)
The beauty of spending so much time with Ifer and in naming her is that I was able to take away some of her power. I was able to see her for what she is, I was able to know when it’s her talking versus the rest of my personal C-suite. Don’t get me wrong- she is still constantly present and constantly trying to jack me up. The difference is that now I can shut her down and ask her to take a seat. Elizabeth Gilbert discusses her own version of a saboteur in “Big Magic” and says it best: [the saboteur] gets a voice, but [it] does not get a vote.” Ifer does not get to paralyze me with fear, to question my value, my capabilities, and upend my dreams and goals.
The other great thing about knowing her better is that I’m able to counter her arguments, because in principle they’re always the same- based on the premise that I’m not good enough and that growth is bad. The arguments can be crippling at times, but they’re never really new.
Do I still question myself sometimes? Yeah, sure I do. Does that questioning cause me the have a shame spiral ending in a pit of self despair? Not so much anymore. And when I do feel myself spiraling I’m able to step back and talk myself out of it, talk to my coach about it, and understand that I’m still in charge. And every once in awhile I have to sit in the pit for a minute to realize how much I hate it there...so I sit...and when I’m done sitting I stand up, whisper “this is bullshit, I’m better than this” and start climbing back up.
What about you? When you’re beating yourself up, getting in your own way, and admitting defeat before you even begin, who are you listening to? Who are you letting run the show in those moments? Can you give that voice a name, a face, a sound?
I encourage you to spend some time with your saboteur so you can recognize it when it speaks up. But most importantly, once you recognize it, keep it at bay and tell it to shut the f*ck up whenever it gets loud and starts to steamroll your aspirations and crush your confidence.
What’s possible when you’re able to quiet the voice that’s been holding you back?