Self-Sabotage and the Valley of Despair

Dec 08, 2020

I had a brief email exchange this week with a voice actor I’ve never met.

He had reached out a couple of times in response to my blog posts, and we ended up conversing a bit about the frustrations and hurdles we often face as voice actors. When I asked him what his biggest hurdle is, he was honest and vulnerable enough to answer: Self-sabotage.

Self. Sabotage.

I am truly compelled to be of support to my voiceover colleagues whenever possible, and I generally perceive myself as capable of doing so. In this instance, however, I felt utterly ill-equipped. I also do a lot of self-sabotaging, and of late, it’s been… how shall I put this… out of control.

As I understand it, self-sabotage is behaving in direct opposition to that which would bring our dreams and goals to fruition. Allow me to illustrate:

I’m working on a big project, which requires a great deal of energy and focused attention. I want to get to bed by 9:30pm so I can wake up at 6:30am to have coffee, workout, shower, get in the booth to record last night’s late incoming auditions, and get to the next details of my project. What do I do instead? At 9pm, rather than wash my face and brush my teeth, I opt to entertain myself with Tik-Tok videos, you know, just to "wind down," and end up putting my phone down at midnight. Nonetheless, I set my alarm for 6:30am determined to stick to my schedule, even if I’m a little sleepier than I’d like. When the alarm rings, what do I do? Hit the snooze every 9 minutes until 8:30am. So now, not only have I gotten crappy sleep, I’ve lost my window to work out and to shower, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be able to get yesterday’s auditions in by their 9am deadline, and I’m too tired to be of any use to the project I so want to complete.

Sleep is foundational for me, so if I don’t honor that part of my physical constitution, everything else goes out the window. And I mean everything. If I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat well. If I don’t eat well, I don’t exercise. If I don’t exercise, I feel crappy in my body. If I feel crappy in my body, I am tired all the time. If I’m tired all the time, I have no motivation to do things like record auditions. If I don’t record auditions, I don’t work. If I don’t work, I worry about keeping the roof over my head and putting food on the table. And if I’m in a state of worry, I am not bringing my best self to anything, not the least of which is that project I want to bring to life. And so the cycle goes…

So, what do we do when we don’t do the things we want to do? It’s not like someone else is standing in our way. We are the ones standing in our way. It’s a conundrum. I’m sure all of us who experience this have done our fair share of motivational training, whether by reading self-help books or going to seminars, or buying this 4-week course or that 30-day program. I do those things all the time and always find something useful. But if that stuff worked thoroughly, well then, why do we still find ourselves here, hitting the snooze button, exhausted, and defeated?  Why? Why? Why?

I’m going to venture an answer. I don’t know if it’s right, and in this instance, I can't speak from experience or any sense of mastery of the problem. But I am in the middle of this very conundrum right now, and frankly, I don’t wanna be here anymore.

Last night, I saw a 60-second clip that hit the nail on the head. Guess where? Yep. Tik-Tok.  Oh, the irony.

The Tik-Tok came from a guy named Jason Capital, who teaches people how to make money doing stuff I’m not really interested in, but I thought this concept was pretty broad in its truth. It went like this:

On a white board he illustrated The Emotional Cycle of Change, which we undergo when we venture into something new, or engage a dream we want to make real.

The first phase is called Uniformed Optimism. “Oh I can do this! This is cool! I’ve got this!”

The second phase is called Informed Pessimism. “Oh. This is way harder than I thought it was gonna be. Damn.”

The third phase is called the Valley of Despair. “I don’t think I can do this. Crap. I wanna quit.”

The fourth phase is called Informed Optimism: “Okay. This is hard. This is challenging. But I can do it.”

And if we keep pushing through, we reach the final phase which is called Success.

99% of us do this ring-around-the-rosy dance with phases one-through-three over and over and over again. We do not want to be in nor do we believe we can survive the Valley of Despair, and so we retreat. We eat potato chips on the couch for a few weeks (maybe months if there’s a pandemic going around) before we venture another try or another angle, and invariably come face to face with the Valley of Despair once again. Round and round it goes…

But here’s the thing: every single successful entrepreneur has slayed that beast. Every single one. They have all sat with and stared down the despair in that valley until they overcame it.

I confess, with the project I am working on now, I am smack dab in the middle of the Valley of Despair.  I don’t think I can do it. I’m overwhelmed. It’s too much. Too much time. Too much money. Too much effort. I don’t know enough. Every turn is a brand-new learning curve which slows everything down and brings to light all my shortcomings. I just want to quit. Star Trek reruns, potato chips, and pints of Häagen-Dazs Peanut Butter and Chocolate beckon.

But watching that Tik-Tok video over and over turned on a lightbulb for me. The beast who taunts us in the Valley of Despair? That’s fear. Fear that we’ll fail, that we suck, that we’re not good enough. Fear that we’re not worthy, and fear we’re unlovable. But in order to succeed, we must fail. It’s in the failure where the learning happens. I will, in fact, suck. I will suck because I’m a beginner. But who cares, really? By definition beginners don’t know anything, so why do I expect to know everything before I even begin? I remember my father walking me to school on the first day of first grade. I was crying as we approached the classroom. He asked me what was wrong. I told him I didn't want to go to first grade because I didn't know how to read. He laughed (kindly) and said "Katie, you go to first grade to learn how to read. You don't already have to know."  Yowza. How many years have to pass before I allow myself to learn this lesson? If I practice I will get better. And if I practice enough, I won’t suck anymore. So, sure, some of these fears are well founded, but they can be conquered by our action. Here’s the real shift though: Some of these fears are just straight up lies. Do you know what is the most common phrase in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures? Fear Not.  So let me just say here and now, I'm done fearing I’m not good enough or worthy enough. I am lovable. And so are you.

I’m making a promise to you and to myself, and I hope you’ll do the same. I may still carry some fear, but I’m not going to quit. I'm going to stare down and then walk through the Valley of Despair until it’s lost its power over me. I am going to admit my ignorance and my shortcomings without any shame. In fact, I’m going to welcome them with gladness. I’m going to admit what I don’t know and take as long as I need to learn. I’m going to throw out that damn arbitrary clock because there is no expiration date for my success. And there’s no expiration date for yours.

I’m guessing that getting through the Valley of Despair will require some tears and a little bit of kicking and screaming on my part. Then, when I’ve had enough of my own temper tantrums, I will do what someone dear to my heart always says: I won’t look too far ahead or get myself wound up in the problems of tomorrow. I’ll just take the next indicated step that’s right in front of me.

One last thing: When I find myself slogged and spinning my wheels, I admit it – to myself and to my allies. I talk about it. I enlist the counsel of my friends, who are kind enough to see me through it. They sign on with me, you know? They check in. They carry me. If I can’t keep the promises I've made to myself, I know I’ll keep the promises I make to them. And I’m reminded again that, while we may do our work by ourselves, we are never meant to do it alone.

My dear friends, when you find you are self-sabotaging: Fear Not. Keep on walking through the Valley of Despair. Don’t overwhelm yourself, though. Just take the next indicated step. And remember to call a friend.

Let’s check up on each other, shall we?

Trust and Be Brave,


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