Stop self-sabotaging success

Trigger warning: mention of sexual trauma

I reached out to this week’s guest writer (@damselafterdistress) last month, asking if she would like to share her personal journey towards living a happier, more fulfilled life. The writer mentioned how she has her own blog and had already written a piece on the subject, which I could re-post on Free to Spiel…so I’ve done just that! This wonderful feature is all about grabbing opportunities and taking your seat at the table – I hope you enjoy reading it!

I’m a woman in Britain. I was born 1997 so I grew up with the Spice Girls and Britney. It felt like girl power. I loved school and learning new things, working especially hard to improve myself. But the constant on my reports was that I needed to speak up more, be more self confident.

Self confidence was an elusive concept. When others succeeded it was because they’d earned it, but I always thought of my own successes as luck or worried I’d be found out as a fraud, I was comfortable denying myself things and listening to those voices in the back of my head that would ridicule me for wanting more, or being proud of what I’d achieved.

On my graduation day from University, a day to be proud of my achievements I was just disappointed in myself. Not only had I graduated with a Psychology degree but I’d done all this whilst surviving a traumatic event (#metoo) and the facing the lasting impacts of un-diagnosed PTSD that had plagued me since. I still just felt like I’d let myself down, that I hadn’t achieved a high enough degree to warrant celebration.

At the time I was a youth worker, seeing 16 year olds so hopeless about the future takes its toll. So to compensate I’d celebrate every one of their wins, those little insignificant to the outside world, victories that build up over time. In trying to be positive for them it soak[ed] in.

Enough for me to take an opportunity and do well. That first positive baby step felt so alien. Waiting for someone to question my worth there and then no one does. That one moment of bravery, is a step up. A step towards happiness. Even if you don’t know what you want, if there’s no clear goal. That first welcome door, had me hooked.

So the next time there was an opportunity I took it. I still felt like a fraud at times, felt like I didn’t belong, didn’t deserve it. The more steps up that ladder you take the more everyone starts to look the same. I’ve worked with several charities, they have almost always had larger teams of women, until you got to management and boardrooms. Where the big decisions were made by men completely removed from the real world. Getting into that world was a whole new challenge.

When I did take an opportunity I started to lose the feeling I was surrounded by peers, the judgement I felt and the unspoken criticism has a way of messing with your head, filling you with doubts and eating away at the confidence I’d maybe started to build. I’d been able to cope with the voice in my head that doubted me until it was joined by the chorus of doubt thrown at me by those around me at that table. I was at breaking point, ready to leave. To throw it all away and settle in the miserable existence I thought I deserved.

A therapist once told me that if you’re struggling with negative thoughts about yourself, imagine it was Donald Trump saying those things to you. How quickly you could reject his criticisms. To know that they were just mindless hate.

So I started to use that tactic whenever I felt unworthy. To speak up at that table and prove that I deserved to be there. I had just as much right as anyone else. To fight the hateful voices inside that questioned my worth. As well as the subtle, criticisms that came from the table around me. Some people imagine their audience naked to feel confident speaking. I imagine mine as a fully-dressed, including MAGA hat, Donald Trump.

When another woman joined me at that table it felt wonderful, like suddenly I had an ally, so we backed each other up. Having that shared experience of defiantly wanting to prove people wrong was incredible fuel. It’s not that I liked myself more, or really thought I’d improved. But it felt wrong to allow someone to judge me based on superficial things. I may not have liked myself for a lot of reasons, [but] being a woman didn’t seem like a valid reason.

Although my race hasn’t held me back, as I’m surrounded by white people like me, I know that for many people it’s another reason to feel unwelcome at the table. I can’t begin to understand what that’s like. But what I can do is support and help you break down the door to the board room and cheer you on as you succeed. As I’m taking all the opportunities I can [get], I’m bringing as many people as I can with me. For me, helping others to succeed will always be the motivation to take opportunities and to draw strength.

I want to live in a world where the only deciding factors in who gets to sit [at the] top are the skills and effort you put in. So that’s what I’m making, because the biggest barriers I faced was myself. I needed to find a motivation to speak, and something I felt passionate about to shout about. But I’m not holding myself back anymore and I’m going to help change the world.

A huge thank you to this week’s guest writer for sharing her personal story and allowing me to re-post it on Free to Spiel. You can connect with her via Instagram (@damselafterdistress) and by visiting her blog (click here).

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