Why you beat yourself up

I was walking to the swimming pool at my gym yesterday, and I got a call from a client who said she needed me to ‘straighten her head out’. I have been out of touch with you as a loyal subscriber for a while – I’ve been working on some really exciting things I can’t wait to tell you about soon – and I’ve missed you. So, to get back in touch, I thought I’d give you an opportunity to ‘listen in over my shoulder’ as I talked with her about how to stop beating herself up. (Just in case this is something you do too 😉

She had just found out that the start-up she was working for was not going to receive the funding they were hoping for, and was therefore going to fold. She was beating herself up for not acting sooner after she saw the warning signs, for joining the company in the first place, and for her preference for entrepreneurial environments over corporate ones.

We could all imagine we’d be fearful in a situation like hers – but of course the most effective response is to pave a new way forward rather spend time and energy regretting what has occurred in the past.

Here are some reasons why you beat yourself up and what you can do instead.

1 Control You beat yourself up to try to have control. We have a need to explain situations that happen, particularly situations that we didn’t want to happen or that are out of our control. We believe we are presented with a choice of explanations: Either: I could have stopped this from happening or There was nothing I could do about the situation. We will often choose the former because believing we could do something to stop it from happening again will give us a semblance of control. It’s the lesser of two evils, given the other choice is being helpless. Instead, find other ways to have control in the situation.

In the situation of my client, there are tons of things she could focus on, including: deepening the connections with new company prospects by providing value in interviews; learning how to better ‘read’ politics and to assess the viability of a company as it unfolds, to better anticipate future challenges; leveraging relationships she made at the start up to find new opportunities or introduce them to her next company’s services; spending time clearly articulating her possible role and compensation requests that would not leave her in the lurch in any subsequent start up environments.

2 Clarity When you are doubtful about yourself, you tend to look at everything through your own subjective lens, and not use the same objective reasoning you would be able to bring to a business decision. She was reprimanding herself that she should never have joined the company, she should have read the tea leaves about the fate of the company, etc. After I asked her some clarifying questions, she determined that in fact the company’s prospects were quite viable until recently, and that it was really only a matter of 4-6 weeks between when she started to have suspicions about the company’s viability and the company’s failure. And on top of that, within 2 weeks of the warning signs she had reached out to me to coach her to help her develop additional next step opportunities. From our conversation, she gained clarity that it wasn’t wrong of her to prefer an entrepreneurial environment over a corporate one, and it wasn’t a bad decision to join the promising start up, her regrets were really confined to what went on in approximately a 2 week period (between her having intuitions and her acting on them) – not the last 6 weeks, 6 months of working there, or the past 45 years of decisions in her life!

You can probably appreciate that adjusting your perspective on a confined situation is much easier to work through than having anxieties and regrets about many decisions over many years of your life. Having clarity on the what the ‘real problem’ reveals to you a manageable piece of a puzzle – on that you can resolve straightforwardly – instead of obsessing about a vague life long self criticism could never be tackled.

3 Confidence When you beat yourself up you are not owning your value. You are only giving attention to the aspects of the situation that reflect your doubts, and devaluing as ‘obvious’ or ‘anyone could do it’ the skills that you do bring to the table. The part of the situation my client wasn’t focusing on was that in the last month since we started working together, she has generated interest from 4 possible new start up companies. She wasn’t allowing in that the founder of one of these 4 new start up companies had already said “I’m glad you reached out to me” and asked her to come on board.

What are the ways that you know deep inside you that your unique way of doing things provides value, creativity, and helpfulness? Remember that I wouldn’t be able to do what you do. Appreciate that your experiences and your personality has led you to be able to work and care in a way that no one else can.

Instead of worrying about what people think about you or about what your prospects are for a next career situation, focus on the contribution that you have been put here to make. Think about the end goal of your work – the way that your work helps people, or the overall mission of your team/organization. Just feel glad about the way your unique skill sets contribute to making that end goal happen and keep your focus on finding ways you can contribute even more effectively to that end goal.

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