Why We Self-Sabotage (And How to Move Beyond It)


Why do we self-sabotage when we’re working on the projects that mean the most to us?

Why are we sensitive to feedback when we know it’ll help us grow?

Why do we behave in a way that is counter-productive to our dreams?

I think about questions like these all the time, and I use myself as a “guinea pig” to experiment, test theories, and tweak to get better results.

Tara Mohr wrote an article on 99u a few years back that sparked a giant “aha!” moment for me, and it’s a concept that I think about all the time.

In short: We sabotage ourselves when we bring our wrong self to the table. (Tweet it.)

Within each creative (and I think of us all as creatives), there are three distinct voices:

The Inner Artist.
The Inner Editor.
The Inner Agent.

Artist Editor Agent.png

Most of us under-use at least one of the three roles and over-use one of the others. To thrive, it requires us to understand when each voice shows up, and how to have them work together.  

Here’s my summary of the three types:

The inner artist is required in the early stages of the creative process to receive ideas and inspiration, and flesh out concepts. It’s important in this phase to be in a space of curiosity, safety, and play, and not to include outside opinions as those can stifle our sensitive artist.

The second stage of the creative process is when the editor leads —  revising, cutting, and structuring to ensure that the art matches its intended audience. It’s important that the editor doesn’t jump in too quickly, or our artist can get spooked.

In the last phase, the agent steps up to pitch, sell, and market the idea. The agent speaks on behalf of the work, knows what she wants, and is brave and wise in her approach.

Do you recognize yourself in any of those profiles?

Is there one that plays a more dominant role in your life?

As Tara points out, problems in our creative lives often stem from bringing the wrong voice to the mission at hand.

Story time:

Years ago, when I was working with Seth Godin to launch a publishing experiment with Amazon, he presented me with the opportunity to be considered for writing one of the twelve books. It felt like the opportunity of a lifetime, everything I had ever wanted, and the biggest full-body “YES!” of my life up until that point.

Then, he gave me an assignment, and I never finished it.

Why? Because my sensitive artist showed up at nearly every stage of the creative process, taking Seth’s feedback personally, not following through on what I said I would, and worrying that “I wasn’t good enough / not ready yet / my voice didn’t matter.”

I took his honest, candid, and thoughtful feedback to mean that something was wrong with me and my writing. My sensitive artist — rather than my wise editor and thick-skinned agent — showed up and sabotaged the opportunity.

It was only when I learned to cultivate and respect these three sides of myself that I was able to give my artist the space it wanted to create, the editor its chance to tailor the message, and the agent its opportunity to promote the work.

Your turn: take a look at what’s on your plate this week, and match your important tasks with the best role for each. Is there an important meeting or email that you want to bring your agent to, for example? Open creative space to let the artist play? Specific time devoted to getting into the details?

As you move through your week, notice when you’re bringing the wrong role to the table and shift into who will best serve your work.


p.s. Which role do you want to cultivate more of? Share who you're bringing to the table with Wonder Tribe.

p.p.s. Have you ordered your copy of the book yet? Pre-order offers are still available!

Amber Rae