To all the self-sabotagers:
I was two weeks away from graduating, and desperately trying to figure out a way to remain a college student and avoid "the real world." Despite all of the effort and energy I had put toward my college education, an internship with a notable film production company during my final semester caused me to question my competence and preparedness for life beyond Biola.
The pressure and demands of the production office served as a stark contrast to my encouraging and supportive on-campus job experiences. When I wasn’t busy rolling calls or speed-reading stacks of screenplays, I spent the rest of my work-day anticipating the next office meltdown and dreading the two-hour commute back to campus. While the assignments were challenging and the hours were long, the day-in, day-out anxiety I experienced didn’t stem from the intensity of the workload, but rather, in an underlying feeling that I was underperforming. I questioned every suggestion, remark, and decision I made. My insecurity was crippling and it festered over the months, leaving me feeling exhausted and defeated.
On the final day of my internship, my supervisor took me out for a routine ‘thank-you’ lunch. Fueled by the overwhelming relief of a job finished, I exchanged more words with my supervisor during our meal than I had throughout the duration of my internship. At a pivotal point in the conversation, we broached the topic of my performance, and I alluded to my insecurities surrounding my “fit” for the position. That’s when my supervisor replied quite bluntly, “You know, you were too timid. You could use more confidence. I mean, I hired you because you had the skills to do the job. You didn’t need to second-guess yourself; you needed to do the job.”
While, in the moment, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, in hindsight, I am incredibly grateful for his honesty. As I processed his words, I realized the performance anxiety and decision paralysis I experienced during the internship wasn’t rooted in my supervisor’s expectations of me but from my own second-guessing of my abilities. I was sabotaging my own success.
I can identify this pattern of self-prescribed inadequacy and underperformance in more areas than my professional life. Whether these insecurities are produced by internalized expectations or are perceived from the surrounding environment, I run into distorted thoughts of myself at all junctures of my life. However, thanks to my truth-speaking community and some intentional mental heavy-lifting, I find I’m quicker to move away from anxiety and toward peace in these spaces than when I was a nervous intern.
If, like me, you treat yourself as the exception to your own sound advice or tend to reject the truth others speak over your life, here are a few habits worth exercising:
- Identify the friends, family members and mentors around you that will champion your strengths and call out your shortcomings with grace. The first step in combating your inner critic is knowing who you can turn to to receive an accurate account of your strengths when thoughts of inadequacy start to get the best of you. It’s time to get vulnerable!
- Call forth the strengths of others. The more you meaningfully speak truth and encouragement into the lives around you, the easier it will be to adopt the same expectations for yourself. Take note of the grace you extend to others yet deny yourself.
- In moments of self-doubt, trust the insight of those close to you over your inner critic. It’s easier said than done. Refusing to indulge your insecurities and open yourself up to healing takes an immense amount of vulnerability and self-control. Use your community to dispel lies and bring you back to the knowledge of who you are in Christ.
- Let failure launch you, not crush you. You will fail. Say it with me: “I will fail.” You will save yourself so much grief if you understand that taking ownership of your mistakes and extending yourself grace are not mutually exclusive actions.
- Get the job done. The world cannot afford to lose your gifts to your insecurities. There are things to do, friends to encourage, and neighbors to serve. There are injustices to address, battles to fight, and a world that is in desperate need of healing. God has entrusted you with circumstances, people, and opportunities around you. Don’t question that he did; find out why he did.
Knowing, naming and using your gifts is a process, but it’s a worthy one. Rely on your people. Trust your abilities. Assume you’ll fail along the way. And expect amazing things as you endeavor to rightly see yourself as God’s image-bearer.