On Staying Woke & Self-Sabotage

You sit down at your computer, ready to face the beast of your own mind. You've done all the bullshitting you can do, and now, it's time to write. You're hydrated, you peed, checked Instagram, had your caffeine, answered the phone, called so-and-so back, made the bed, ate, checked Facebook, peed again.

Now. It's time. You get your laptop, open it up, and search for the document you've been meaning to work on for days. The document should be in your drafts page on the new blog site you just paid $12.00 a month for as an effort to show up for your writing, like your mentor told you to. Like you said you would.

Hmm. You don't see the draft. You refresh the page. Still, no draft. You refresh again. By this time, you realize what has happened but there's still a glimmer of hope. You recognize this hope as delusion, and still, you google "Recovering deleted posts on Squarespace." You can tell by the first three search results that it's over, it's all over, but you click on the first page anyway. The internet tells you, in not so many words, "Damn, homie. That sucks."

You didn't save your writing.


The above scenario has happened to me more times than I can count. It's one of those things that, every single time it happens, I'm like, "Really? For real? This again?"

It's getting old. Like, really really old. (And Beyonce just put out Lemonade, so I have no excuse not to make a conscious effort to step my game up.) So. Here I am, trying to unpack this shit. 


In 2014, I decided I wanted to be a writer, which meant, for me: making moves to to pursue writing as a viable career and not just "a thing I did in undergrad."  I committed to self-publishing a collection of poems I had been trying to muster up the courage to share with the world for the past, ohidunno, ten years? I spent months editing the poems; sending them out to friends whose minds and hearts I trusted, staying up late, working on edits. I hired a someone to design the cover.  I gave up on the whole project, I picked it back up. I gave up again, I picked it back up again. This went on for a while, until finally, after much self-inflicted emotional turmoil, I printed 75 chapbooks at my local print shop. They weren't perfect (I should have used card stock for the cover- eye roll, duh) but they were finished. I took them all home in a box and put them on my bookshelf. 

Bravery had me feeling myself so I decided to book some poetry readings. For my first one, I planned to bring - and hopefully sell!- a handful of never-before-seen, hot-off-the-press chapbooks.  I put them in a plastic grocery bag, wrapped them up tightly like a delicate package, and put them in my backpack.

After the reading, I reached into my bag only to discover that the coffee mug I could have sworn was empty and didn't even mean to bring with me wtf had turned on it's side and spilled all over my bag, staining my  beautiful new chapbooks with the sad brown fragrant evidence of my own self-sabotage.

I went into the bathroom and cried.

I was more than disappointed in myself, I was terrified.  I was shaken by my own lack of self-awareness. What was I thinking? ClearlyI wasn't thinking at all. I felt like my conscious brain had up and walked out of the room and I didn't notice it was gone until it was too late. 

But...where did it go?


For years I have subconsciously manifested "reasons" that I'm not sharing my writing. I spill old coffee all over the chapbooks I'm supposed to hand out to strangers who ask to read my work. I "forget" to print my poems before open mics, risking shitty wifi and/or a dead phone. I "accidentally delete" drafts of my work on my computer.

The list goes on.

I consistently self-sabotage my own work and I don't even know I'm doing it. If there's one thing I've learned about ego, it's that it's one sneaky motherfucker.  Ego will show up dressed like fear, looking like jealously, sounding like procrastination, acting like self-sabotage

Ego, no matter the form, is invested in controlling and maintaining a false image of the self.

My ego doesn't want me to be a failure, and so it minimizes opportunities I have to fail. ("If a poem I wrote sucks and no one reads it, does the poem still suck?": A Memoir.)

Not being careful with my writing is glaring evidence of an unchecked ego, and it's a habit I have to break.  Here I am again, in the wake of another tragically unsaved file, looking at myself like...I don't even KNOW YOU.

It's scary to realize that you've been moving through the world in a state of - dare I say? - possession.  

I use the phrase "stay woke" quite often, and though I usually throw it in as a playful hashtag after news or specific opinions I think we should pay close attention to, it's so much more than that. Staying woke, for me, refers to this big idea of consciousness: a deep, heightened sense of awareness of yourself, the world outside of yourself, and what's really real when it comes to both.


Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism - I'm protecting myself from the fear that I will fail at something that I so desperately want to be good at.

But fear - if not rooted in any actual concern about your health and/or safety- is just ego. (FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real!) Nine out of ten times, fear is just your ego creating false truths and tricking you into thinking that those fear-based fantasies are real life. 

("If people read bad poems that I wrote, nobody will respect me and I'll never get paid to be a writer and be forced to work a low-wage job doing something I hate for the rest of my life!"

... Like. WHAT? My ego just be going off. It's so far from the truth that when you say it out loud, it's almost funny. 


Ego and consciousness can't coexist. Ego takes over only when you give it permission to; when you momentarily allow yourself to drift into a state of unconsciousness. Staying woke is about maintaining awareness of what's real- keeping all eyes open for false realities. 

When you're present- not reliving the past or worrying about the future- it's easy to see how you're getting in your own way. It's easy to see that your work is so much bigger than yourself.

THAT SAID, I'm bullshitting as we speak. I really should be working on rewriting this short story I just let disappear into the ether.

So. Yeah. I'm going to go do that.

And you, dear reader, whomever you are. I love you. You got this. Whatever that thing is that you keep doing to get in the way of your own work? Lovingly and respectfully: Cut that shit out. I'm telling you this as I'm saying it to myself: It doesn't serve you, and it certainly doesn't serve the world. We need you. Let's do this thing together, okay?

Jamila Reddy