Yesterday, I was reflecting on a workshop I led this week for Goldman Sachs’ 2011 Returnship class. Similar to an internship, the Returnship program is a ten-week prep program to help accomplished professional women transition back into the paid workforce after a career break. I was brought in to help these women take a big-picture snapshot of their life today so that they can better anticipate opportunities and obstacles associated with their relaunch.
One hot topic we discussed was how shaking up the status quo takes real guts and often provokes what we in the coaching world call “Saboteurs” or “Inner Critics”. The Wall Street Journal even describes how prevalent this is.
These little voices in our head are sneaky and usually very nasty. They speak to us in a critical tone typically reserved for our worst enemy. Think back to a time when you contemplated reaching for something out of your comfort zone. Now, fill in the blanks:
“You will fail because you are not ______ enough!” (organized, smart, skinny…)
They make us feel like failure is guaranteed, so why not play it safe and put off even trying in the first place. Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week says it well:
“Uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows. Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”
I like to use the “School Bus” metaphor to illustrate for clients how disruptive unchecked saboteurs can be. And for my session at Goldman, I placed a little yellow die cast school bus on the conference table in front of me and said this:
“I want you to think of your saboteurs as bratty little kids riding on a school bus. They are jumping around in their seats and making a ruckus. The bus driver is taking a new route to school, and they are panicked that the driver will get terribly lost. They are so out of control that they are running up and down the aisles of the bus, and eventually push the driver out of the seat. Now the bus is off its course. You are the bus driver and you have lost control of the bus and where it is going. The saboteurs are driving.”
Ever experienced this feeling?
The good news is, these voices are our much needed risk managers. Their role is to protect us from taking unsafe risks (such as thinking we can fly, and therefore jumping off a skyscraper). Now for the bad news: often they over-react and scare us away from achieving (or even setting!) the stretch goals so critical for professional and personal growth. This gang of bratty inner critics, much like rowdy kids on a school bus, take control and stop us from driving towards our dreams.
Take heart. Every human being, no matter how confident they may appear, wrestles with their own gang of saboteurs. It is part of the human condition. (I am pretty sure my dog Lola does not struggle with any of this.) If you are planning to ever go after something big in your life, might as well learn how to have a productive working relationship with your saboteurs. You can’t get rid of them. Best-case scenario is that they are along for the ride, helping you avoid only the most dangerous situations. Other than that, they are sitting nicely in their seats enjoying the view.
I teach my client the P.A.C.K. formula for managing their little demons:
Send that Saboteur P.A.C.K.ing:
- P.ersonify and label the Saboteur: Is it a he or she? What does it look like? Where do you feel it in your body? Can you give it a name? Distinguish it from the real you.
- A.cknowledge the small bit of truth the saboteur delivers. Then say “Thank you for sharing”.
- C.hallenge the part of their message that’s garbage. Ask yourself “What is the truth here, not the saboteur’s version?”. Provide some evidence to disprove its argument.
- K.ick it out or kindly ask it leave to the driver’s seat! Your saboteur can be on the bus, but not driving.
Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t easy. It takes practice and will be a game you play your whole life. So, here’s your assignment: Try to pay attention in your own life and be that awareness that notices the voice. Try the P.A.C.K. formula. BE THE BUS DRIVER.
Kudos to the women in the Returnship program. They have taken some very significant first steps in challenging their saboteurs. Not only did they get into action and apply to this program, but also they were chosen from hundreds of applicants. Take that saboteurs!