From the April 2000 issue of Startups

You want your venture to make it big, right? Subconsciously, you may not. Take, for example, Rand Stagen, 29, the founder and publisher of The Met magazine, a Dallas publication that covers the local entertainment and nightlife scene. He started the magazine at age 23 with the aim of expanding it into a large-scale national media company.

"When I started the business, I was unstoppable," reflects Stagen, who has grown The Met into a $2.5 million venture with 30 employees. "People said that a 23-year-old couldn't survive in a Top 10 media market [like Dallas]. But we did it! We proved them wrong." After a while, however, Stagen found himself engaging in self-sabotage. "As I developed my business, I started getting complacent, thinking, `Yeah, we did it! Now I'm accomplished.' But what about the media empire I wanted to build? As I started to realize how difficult it is to compete on a local level, let alone trying to take on the world, the media empire was no longer the goal-it was to keep surviving," admits Stagen. For the first time in his career, he began to have doubts, resigning himself to thinking that it was more realistic to be content with a successful local publication.

Fortunately, Stagen recognized before it was too late that his self-deprecating behavior was hindering his ability to achieve his goals. But what about you? Are you ambushing your own success? Here are tips to help you break free from self-sabotage:

1. Know the warning signs. If your venture is going to make it big-or make it at any level, for that matter-you must leave your comfort zone. By extension, you'll naturally find yourself resisting the changes that your goals require of you. Every entrepreneur experiences inner struggle, but the important thing is not to give in to your doubts. You'll know this is happening when you find yourself accepting the possibility of failure, making excuses like:

  • The competition is brutal.
  • I don't have the money to get started.
  • I have too many responsibilities. How can I even think about starting a business right now?
  • I'm just not cut out for this entrepreneur thing.

Nasty self-sabotage can also manifest itself in uncharacteristic feelings of doubt, fear and excessive stress. In response, regularly analyze your conversations, thoughts and feelings, as Stagen does by writing in a journal, and you'll be more likely to catch yourself before it's too late.

2. Reconnect with your dream. When Stagen starts to doubt or make excuses, he goes back to his journals from when he started The Met. "I try to recreate the experiences I had back then," says Stagen. "I ask myself `What compelled me to get into the business in the first place?' and then focus my attention on those reasons." Why do you want to start your own venture? What makes you passionate about your business? Is it the freedom? The profit potential? The personal rewards? Keep those thoughts before you. If you lose site of your dreams, you're sure to fall into the self-sabotage trap.

3. Identify the real obstacles-and eliminate them. The red flag for Stagen was his uncharacteristic feeling of self-doubt, but was doubt the real obstacle? Actually, what was holding Stagen back was intimidation. The challenge to build a media empire seemed far more difficult than he had anticipated five years earlier, and he felt ill-equipped to rise to the occasion. "When your natural abilities take you only so far, of course you're going to sabotage yourself-you're stuck," says Stagen. "How are you going to get to the next level?" His plan: Make personal and professional growth a top priority. "That's when I really picked up the pace on reading books and attending seminars," Stagen explains.

Get to the bottom of the excuses to uncover the real obstacles that stand in your way. Then you can take steps to overcome them and move closer to fulfilling your business goals.


Sean M. Lyden (seanlyden@mindspring.com) is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company that specializes in ghostwriting articles. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues.

Brain Food

Fighting with yourself?

Here are two books to help you resolve the conflict:

Self-Sabotage: How to Stop It and Soar to Success, by Martha Baldwin (Warner Books, $13.95, 800-759-0190)

Your Own Worst Enemy: How to Overcome Career Self-Sabotage, by Andrew J. DuBrin (AMACOM, $14.95, 800-262-9699)

What psychological obstacles to success are you trying to overcome? Tell us at bsumag@entrepreneur.com.