Here’s why being hard on yourself is actually holding you back

January 13, 2022
Mariam Zohouri

Repeat after me: You are worthy of just existing

If that made you feel *unbelievably* uncomfortable, you’re probably a [recovering, I hope] overachiever. You know, the kind of person who is more likely to recoil at a compliment than—gasp!—accept it.

Somewhere along the way, someone probably told you that in order to succeed (whatever that means), you had to be hard on yourself. 

But it turns out that being a royal jerk to yourself can actually do a lot of damage to your self-worth, your career, and your relationships (who knew?). 

Mindset and career coach Amandah Wood navigates this kind of stuff with her clients every day. I sat down with her to find out how you can show yourself a lil’ more kindness, and why self-compassion (not ruthlessness) is the best thing you can do to build the career—and life—you deserve.

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Mariam Zohouri: You’ve talked a lot about mental health at work, and specifically in the tech industry. Why is that? 

Amandah Wood: It’s the industry I know best. It’s fast-paced, so there’s not a lot of time to process or reflect. You’re constantly moving forward. That can lead to burnout and exhaustion. 

This idea of hustling or grinding is a common narrative in tech. If you aren’t growing exponentially and seeing 10x growth—terms we try not to use anymore—it can feel like something’s wrong with you. 

It’s tough talking about these challenges with people who aren’t in tech because, a lot of the time, you’re coming from a really privileged position. 

Compared to other industries, tech salaries and benefits can be so high. When I was working in tech, I had better benefits than my friend who’s a nurse. 

There’s an expectation to grow and work at an incredibly fast pace in tech, while not complaining about it, because you believe that others have it worse. 

This touches on something you advocate for: to stop telling employees to take better care of themselves, and instead have employers take responsibility for their working conditions. 

Why does this matter? And what can employers do to create a constructive work environment?

Amandah: First off, employees must advocate for themselves, because your boss won’t know what’s going on if nobody’s speaking up. But, if employees do this, and they’re not met with support, your organisation has a problem. 

Maybe your manager doesn’t have the training to talk about mental health at work, even if they want to support you. There’s also a hierarchy, a fear of losing your job if you speak up. Which is why putting the onus only on your employees is a difficult, if not impossible, ask. 

Employers need to step up and support a culture that embraces and supports advocacy and wellness.

Managers need to talk about it more. It needs to be part of leadership training. As a leader, you are expected to deal with these subjects, and you need to have the tools to respond in a meaningful way to employees who need your help. 

Do you know what to do? Do you know how to engage HR? You need to have a clear process in place, to give you, and your employees, peace of mind. 

Mariam: It takes accountability and discipline for leaders to effectively support their teams. 

Amandah: 100%. And, look, we talk a lot about burnout, especially during this pandemic. But there are so many opportunities to help someone before they get to that point. 

Often burnout isn’t about being overworked. It’s about feeling like you don’t have control in your role. 

Managers can do something about that, to support their people before they get to a point where they want to quit. 

Mariam: On the subject of changing how we think about work, you have a podcast called Ways We Work, which you started to call bullshit on the old adage that “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.” 

Why was that important to you?

Amandah: I resonate with part of it. Of course, if you love what you do, it’ll feel like less work than if you’re doing something you hate. But when you love and are passionate about your work, it can be difficult to separate it from your identity. It feels personal. 

When you’re working on something that you see as your purpose, the ups and downs are amplified. It’s challenging. 

If you’re self-employed, you don’t have the separation of work and life that comes with a nine-to-five. You can’t just close your laptop and forget about work because it’s someone else’s company. 

You have more invested in its success—whether it’s your money, time, or energy. There’s more of you in it. 

Mariam: Even if you love what you do, work is work, and you have to develop a healthy mindset about it. 

With that in mind, I have a question about your mindset, because, even though you had a successful career before becoming a coach, you’ve talked about feeling like you, well, didn’t

When did you recognize that it was your mindset, not your reality, that needed to change? 

Amandah: I’m ambitious, so I never feel like I’ve reached my goals in their entirety. And I actually think that that can be motivating. 

But, on the flip side, it can feel like nothing is ever good enough, which has the opposite effect of ambition, where you question why you even bother trying. It took a lot of therapy, and work with coaches, to recognize this about myself. 

When you believe something, and nobody has ever challenged it, you start to think that belief is the truth. Like my belief that “nothing is ever good enough.”

Changing your beliefs isn’t like flipping a switch. It’s a slow, challenging process. And it’s empowering, because you realise that you can change your other limiting and negative beliefs, too. That’s why I fell in love with coaching. 

When you realize that you don’t have to think this way about yourself anymore, it makes you like yourself more. It makes you more successful. It makes you a more enjoyable person to be around. 

There’s a misconception about self-compassion: that in order to grow, you have to be hard on yourself. Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading psychologist on this subject, says this disciplinary approach is the most common thing that holds people back. 

If you are truly self-compassionate, and kind to yourself, you are actually more likely to hold yourself accountable and focus on your growth. 

That really resonates with me. I’m a second-generation immigrant and my parents sacrificed so much, for me, for our family. Sometimes I’ll feel like I’m not worthy, unless I’m accomplishing something great. But we all deserve to just exist. 

Amandah: If you truly believe that nothing will ever be good enough, then you don’t have a lot of incentive to improve, right? 

These toxic beliefs, that you’re a bad person, that you’re not good enough, make it so that when you do make a mistake, you can’t be vulnerable with others, because then people will know that you’re “not good enough.” 

But from a place of self-compassion, you’re just a human being, and of course you’re going to make mistakes. That doesn’t make you a bad person. 

You can hold yourself accountable without having unrealistic and toxic expectations of yourself. And when you’re kind to yourself, you’re more likely to show others compassion, too.

Mariam: It’s easy to forget that our biggest, scariest mistakes are actually pretty common. That’s why I love how candid you’ve been about getting fired. 

I’ve been fired too—it’s a shocking experience that inspires so much self-doubt. What advice do you have for someone who’s going through it right now?

Amandah: Getting fired doesn’t say anything about your capabilities as an employee. There are so many circumstances that can lead to you losing your job. Maybe you just weren’t a good fit for the company. Maybe they were restructuring. Maybe you weren’t happy there to begin with. 

But even if you know that getting laid off had nothing to do with your performance, it still feels personal. You have to remember that in the long expanse of your career, this is just one small blip. You still have so much value to offer and so much to learn. 

Try not to obsess over it. I was fired after working somewhere for three months. In hindsight, I’m grateful because it was not the right fit for me. But at that time, I didn’t know anyone else who had gotten fired. It wasn’t something people talked about.

Mariam: After I lost my job, I felt like a huge, lonely loser, so I Googled celebrities who got fired to feel better about myself. That’s why I really appreciate you being so open about your experience. 

Now, I want to learn about your clients. When they come to you for help, what is it for? And how can you tell when they’re making progress? 

Amandah: If you’re coming to me, it’s usually for mindset coaching,specifically connected to how you're relating to your career. You might want to change your career, or get a promotion, or make some kind of change. 

There’s this strong desire, but there’s also a strong fear, like something is holding you back. Lately, more people are coming to me because they want to change careers, or start their own thing. 

Progress is something I build out from my very first session, by asking you to describe, in one or two sentences, what you hope to accomplish with me. 

Over time, it’s interesting to see whether a client holds onto their goals, or changes them. Through our sessions, you might find that your perspective has changed, which might mean you no longer want to quit your job. 

What’s important here is whether you’re in a more positive headspace. Are you seeing more opportunities, where before you only saw challenges? Do you feel like more is possible for you? 

Throughout our sessions I’m also actively checking in to make sure you feel supported and like we’re going in the right direction. How are you feeling compared to the start of our time together?

Then we’ll examine your actions. Are you starting to do things that you were afraid of before? If you were terrified of looking for a new job, are you now updating your resume, and reaching out to your network? 

Despite feeling scared, are you moving forward?  


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