Illegitimate excuses: Are you sabotaging yourself because of fear of failure?

What is sabotage^ Sabotage is treason^ - NARA ...

What is sabotage^ Sabotage is treason^ - NARA - 535191 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On one of my other sites (There are too many. Seriously. I could be on hoarders.) I posted about a contest that was being run by a major corporation with some exciting prizes as only a major corporation can offer.

Several readers commented on how they were going to enter and then one commented that she wasn’t. And, even though no one asked, she decided to elaborate on why.

She wouldn’t enter this contest even though she wanted to because she might win and the day they were giving out prizes was a few weeks after her vacation and, even though that day was on a weekend, she’d want that Friday off too and what if her boss wouldn’t give her more time off? So she just wasn’t going to enter at all, just in case.

This post gave me some kind of chain of thought whiplash. Even at a conservative estimate, hundreds of people would be entering this contest, more likely millions based on the size of the company hosting. The chances of her winning were incredibly small. Sure, you could make a case for why it wasn’t worth it to enter because the odds were against you. But, instead, she was worried about what would happen if she won and fretting about how winning might inconvenience her.  Even if she did win, I’m sure there would be some kind of provision to mail her the prize if she couldn’t attend. Not to mention that she could just go for the weekend. Or that her boss might be perfectly willing to give her the time for such a once in a lifetime type event. There are so many uncertain factors in this scenario that she was assuming as truth and building a whole thing up around this shaky foundation.

I’ve seen this kind of thinking before and at first it seems like arrogance but I think it’s actually the exact opposite. That this person is so convinced that she’ll lose that she’s made up an elaborate excuse for why she shouldn’t even bother to enter. It’s a kind of self-sabotage.

I bring this up because I think some of us do this in our own lives without realizing it. We don’t take that risk, big or small, but instead of just admitting to ourselves that we’re scared or afraid of failure, we make up a complicated justification.

I know Nike would have us believe that there are No Excuses (or maybe I’m mixing them up with the No Fear people) and, in truth, there are really very few excuses that aren’t just us handicapping ourselves and our future potential.  The longer an excuse is, in my experience, the more that indicates it’s complete BS. Listen to yourself when you start turning down an opportunity. Do you have a legitimate excuse or are you just trying to back out rather than face potential failure? Are you worrying about things too far in the future or dependent on hundreds of other random variables down the road? Cross those bridges when you come to them.

If you find yourself doing this, remind yourself of the same thing I would tell the lady who commented on that post: You may win. You may not. Just enter.

Have you ever known someone who sabotaged themselves this way? Or do you find yourself doing this to yourself?

Author: Hillary DePiano

Selling online since 1997, Hillary is the author of several books and eBooks about ecommerce and publishing including eBay Marketing Makeover, Beyond Amazon, eBay, and Etsy and Sell Their Stuff. She also writes fiction and is a bestselling playwright when you aren't looking. For a complete list of books, plays and projects, visit

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  • SpaceVegetable

    I was talking about my business to a friend one day and he interrupted to tell me how silly it is to start your own business because everyone knows you’ll never succeed and just lose all your money. This is also the same guy who won’t invest his retirement money in anything beyond CDs because everything else is too risky. He also always tells me that I should take a permanent job instead of working as a contractor because it’s too unstable.

    I have a tendency to overthink things sometimes and occasionally shy away from risks I should take, but in the past few years I started invoking the “stubborn gene” my dad always accused me of having to just go for it instead of thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t. Sure, it can be stomach-churning, but you never know what you’ll accomplish if you never try.

    • Hillary

      To me, if you keep fixating on an idea and your mind won’t let it go, it’s worth giving a try no matter how far fetched success seems if for no other reason than to prove to yourself conclusively that it can or can’t be done.

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