What is self-fulfilled prophesy?
The art of willfully structuring events to manifest a projected outcome.
It isn’t enough that we have to battle the rest of the world, we have to battle ourselves. And often we are not only our greatest critic, we are our worst enemy. We treat everyone else in the world–including strangers on the street–with more dignity and compassion and respect than we treat ourselves. Why is that? Why is it that everyone else deserves more kindness and consideration than we feel we deserve?
A huge part of it is due to upbringing and what we have adopted or has been forced upon us as appropriate conduct and social behavior. We’ve all heard some form of:
Be modest. Be humble. Be unassuming. Don’t get a big head. I made you, I can break you. You owe me. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing. I don’t care what you think, in my house, you’ll do as I say. Pretty is as pretty does. Never brag, it’s bad form. Don’t blow your own horn, toot your own whistle. You do you think you are? If I wanted your advice, I’d ask for it. Loser. You can’t do that. You’re too __________ (fill in the blank).
Think back through your life. This goes back further than adulthood: (color inside the lines; be seen, not heard; don’t cause a stir). What putdown or well intended behavior sapped the confidence right out of you? Made you feel small and insignificant? Hopeless? Helpless? Clueless or unworthy? Like a victim?
These types of things happen to all of us. Often, they were well intended and not meant to impact us they way they did, but they do. (Remember that saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? Well partly, no doubt, it got to be an often-repeated saying due to things such as this.)
Words have power. We know that. And that definitely includes words spoken to us about us. Ones that impact us strongly–positively or negatively–we carry with us. They help form and shape our opinions, our esteem, our behavior and our beliefs. When we believe we can, odds are we can. When we believe we can’t and we never will, we will make that true because we believe it to be true. That’s self-fulfilled prophesy. And often to make it happen, we embrace self-sabotage.
An Example: An author has been writing one type of book for years. The market for that type book is dwindling and her editor recommends the author write a different type of book and makes several suggestions. The author refuses–and when contract renewal time comes around, author is told the publisher will not be offering a new contract.
Author refused for any of a number of reasons. Didn’t like the type of books suggested. Had no interest in shifting to a new type novel. Feared change. Feared losing her existing reader base. The point is, regardless of the reason the author refused, s/he refused and as a result, s/he is now without a publisher.
A more blatant example: An author goes to a conference and at a luncheon complains to a table full of people—some known to the author, some unknown to the author—about her publisher. An editor for that publisher is sitting at the next table and overhears the author rake her publishing house over the coals. Said editor reports this public tongue-lashing to author’s editor—which shocked the editor who had no idea that the author was unhappy about anything. Now imagine you’re that editor. How enthused are you about working with that author?
We all take wrong steps in our careers and in our lives. We try something that doesn’t work. We write something that doesn’t resonate. We plan and set expectations based on the information we have available but that information proves incomplete or faulty. These are mistakes, yes, but not ones where we, through our own arrogance or ignorance or fears or other personal issue-based actions, shoot ourselves in the foot and cut ourselves off at the knees.
I have to say that after more than two decades in this business, the discretion errors are the ones I’ve seen occur most frequently. Or, I should say, the lack of discretion errors are the ones I’ve seen occur most frequently. Actually, looking back, I’d say that I’ve seen more authors sabotage their careers by exercising a lack of discretion than in all the other errors combined. The saddest part is these errors are avoidable.
A little story to keep in mind:
Author A wrote for an Editor at a publishing company.
Author A had some very nasty things to say about another writer to Editor.
Editor spoke very little and formally–cautiously–to Author A because Author A couldn’t be trusted to be discreet.
Author A was offended by Editor’s distance and had some very nasty things to say to Editor about it, then promptly went to the Editorial Director repeated those nasty things about Editor and asked to be assigned to a new Editor.
The Editorial Director refused the request.
Author A left the Publisher and wrote for a New Editor at a New Publisher.
Before Author A’s first book with New Publisher came out, her New Editor left the New Publisher for employment at a competing Publisher.
New Publisher hired a replacement: Editor from Author A’s original Publisher—the editor to whom Author A said nasty things and then repeated them to Editorial Director with the request for reassignment which was refused.
So now once again Author A has a problem. A self-inflicted problem.
Publishing is a small world. Editors frequently move around to move up. Author A is in a tough spot to be sure, but it is a spot she put herself in due to her own lack of professional discretion. Net result? Self-sabotage. Can Author A recover? Maybe if she looks for and secures a New New Editor at a New New Publisher—unless Author A’s reputation precedes her, and it well might.
Life would have been so much simpler for Author A had that author just be discreet and discussed the issues with the Editor before they became major issues.
Self-sabotage isn’t only seated in esteem and confidence and negative issues. It can also be seated in fear. Like the fear of failure or the fear of success.
People driven by a dream will just about kill themselves to hit benchmarks that define for them success. They’ll climb the ladder, struggle and sacrifice and put in super-human effort to get up to the next rung. Their goal is in sight. They’re almost there. Almost to the pinnacle that has occupied their hopes and dreams and cost them so much and now–now they’re—scared to death they won’t make it or they will. They decide they may not really want what they thought they did, or that they definitely do not want it.
Suddenly unthought of facets come to life. Ones that can make them hypersensitive—a place rife with errors in judgment. Some previously unthought of facets are:
✦ If I make that sale, people are actually going to read what I write. They might hate it, have ugly things to say about it–about me. I could be embarrassed, humiliated, rejected.
✦ If I make that list, people are going to expect so much out of the book. What if it disappoints them? What if they bad-mouth me and/or it? My family, friends, everyone I know will hear all about it. I’ll look like a fool, an idiot. I could be hurt. My kids could be hurt or embarrassed or humiliated. Rejected.
✦ The last book did so well. What if this one bombs?
✦ I am going to be judged. I could be found wanting and/or rejected—or even worse, irrelevant.
See how these things all tie back to self-esteem and image? Your perception of who you are and your place in your world, and in the worlds of others?
We all want to be loved and accepted. We all want our work, which is an extension of us, to be loved and accepted.
And it’s hard to open up and risk not being loved and accepted. But the simple facts are these:
Some will love and accept us and our work.
Some will hate and reject us and our work.
And some will be indifferent toward us and our work.
Of all these things–think about this–indifference troubles us most.
Why? Because it jerks our chains and feeds those little nags in us that say we and what we are doing are insignificant.
You can go into broader analysis, but in my experience, when you do and then you dive deep, it takes you right back to this place. Maybe you need the journey to feel sure of that. Maybe you can take the word of one who has journeyed and taken that journey with many others. Regardless, you do need to grasp the reasons we sabotage ourselves and take constructive steps to resolve the underlying issues. Understand them. And stop doing those things that harm yourself so you can fulfill your potential.*