Are You Sabotaging Your Opportunities for Success?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CII, No. 5May, 2002

Jackelyn S. Frost, CSW

The music industry is a very difficult business to be in, but many excellent musicians add to the inherent difficulties by failing to follow through in various ways. Have you found yourself showing up late to gigs? Not networking in the ways you need to? Failing to make the demo tape you know you need? Forgetting your business cards? Getting in arguments with fellow musicians? These are ways you may unconsciously be getting in the way of your own success. Here are some further symptoms of impeding your own achievement:

  1. You never seem to be able to make the next step up in your career;
  2. After each success, you find yourself becoming anxious, depressed or overcome by a sense of meaninglessness, often without a clear sense of the cause;
  3. You find yourself missing important appointments, showing up late to gigs, insulting people important to your career, getting injured in “accidents,” or otherwise sabotaging yourself;
  4. You procrastinate on doing things that could be very important to your career;
  5. When a big opportunity comes along, you create a crisis in another area of your life;
  6. You may develop symptoms such as insomnia, headaches or gastrointestinal problems;
  7. Following a success, you behave in self-destructive or self-defeating ways – such as a marked increase in use of drugs or alcohol, or compulsively engaging in behavior such as sex, eating, gambling, spending.

People who suffer from self-sabotaging tendencies are often highly motivated. In fact, the world may see them as highly successful, even though a self-imposed limit interferes with how much they can achieve.


Self-esteem is the most important determining factor in reaching your potential. Self-sabotage is related to a lack of self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence. If you feel good about yourself, you can more easily allow good things into your life. Without that, you may start to worry, doubt or fear: (1) Do I really deserve to be successful? (2) If I become successful, will people still like me? (3) What right do I have to lead people? (4) What if I earn more money than my spouse does?

This kind of negative self-talk can result in self-fulfilling prophecies of the limitations you are actually imposing on yourself. People who tell themselves things like, “You can’t do that,” “You aren’t good enough,” “You’re not a good learner” or “You never would have thought of that,” are undermining themselves, and this eventually depletes their energy, determination, focus and motivation.

You may have internalized these negative messages as a result of how you were treated early in life by family members or by others who were important to you. Today you may still unconsciously be accepting these old, destructive messages as the truth.


Try examining how true these statements really are, and then focus and build on the strengths that you have, rather than your deficiencies. Working with a psychotherapist may help you to identify negative messages that you may not even be conscious of having, and can help you reframe the beliefs you have about yourself.

Many people fear that, if they attain a certain level of success, something terrible will happen. Often much of our identity is based on our life circumstances. Success can change the limits in our lives, and the rules that govern our lives. These changes cause some people to feel anxious, panicked and adrift in unfamiliar territory. It can be particularly bewildering to have these distressful feelings surfacing at times when you are experiencing success. Working to understand these feelings and your underlying fears can help prevent you from unconsciously resorting to sabotaging your own progress.

To strive toward success you must have goals to aim for. Failure to formulate well-thought-out goals is like wandering through life blindfolded. Write down your goals, but make sure they are achievable by your own effort and not dependent on someone else’s actions or good will. Dream big – and think concretely about what you can do to make your dreams possible. Envisioning and embracing a bigger idea of yourself is the first step in achieving a higher level of success.

Divide your goals into actions that you can work on each day, and do something toward achieving your goals every single day, no matter how small it may seem. And celebrate your accomplishments, even the little ones.

Surrounding yourself with a support system of positive, encouraging, uplifting people who are striving toward constructive goals in their own lives will help you develop and pursue your own ambitions.

You must recognize the potential within yourself and believe that your efforts will result in reaching your goals. And remember that the more you strive toward your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them.

If you would like to speak to a social worker about further ways to cope with self-sabotaging behavior please call the Musicians’ Assistance Program at (212) 397-4802 and schedule an appointment free of charge.

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