Being Your Own Worst Enemy


Swapster-ArrowsThere are several times, in my novel, A Fitting Place, when both of my major characters are their own worst enemy.

A typical definition of being your own worst enemy is acting in ways that are self-defeating, that prevent you from getting what you want or meeting your goals. But the definition that drives my characters has a slightly different focus: you are your own worst enemy when you are driven to action by two or more incompatible objectives.

For example, you can’t insist on being independent and self-sufficient, and still criticize people for not volunteering to give you assistance and/or support. You can’t complain that others take advantage of you if you’re unwilling to say “no.”  You can’t take pride in being eccentric and then be offended when strangers are uncomfortable around you or question your decisions. 

This last one I know from painful experience.

For many years, I was told that I was my own worst enemy but nobody seemed able to explain it to me in a way that told me what to do differently.

And then one afternoon, when I was in my late 20s and thinking I was well on the road to a successful career as an economist, my boss walked into my office and settled, unsmiling, into the chair across from me.

Only moments before, we’d left a meeting in which senior staff had grilled me on a paper I’d recently written. For nearly two hours, I’d had to explain and defend it, almost line by line. Apparently, my defense was sufficient, as they’d accepted my paper for publication. 

What had I done wrong?

“Mary, do you realize that you’re your own worst enemy?” Peter said. “For a moment, I thought you were going to cry.”

“Why did they have to be so hard on me?”

“Your paper challenges some long standing views held by respected PhD economists who’ve been in this field for years. Your idea was new, and its significance wasn’t as obvious to everyone as it was to you.” 

“But their questions were brutal—”

Peter interrupted me. “You should be flattered they took two hours out of their day to discuss a paper by someone barely two years out of an MBA. If you want to poke a stick in their eye, it’s your choice. But you can’t expect them to like it.

Well, of course you can, but as strategy, it’s pretty much guaranteed to make your own worst enemy.

The painful truth is that, thirty years later, I still have to temper my reaction when people don’t understand a point I’m trying to make. But at least now, I no longer take it personally.

Have you ever been your own worst enemy?  How did you get over it?


This blog continues the discussion on themes in my novel.  I welcome comments and guest blogs from my readers based on their own experiences.  Let me know if you’d like to do a guest blog on one or more of the issues relevant to A Fitting Place



  1. Great blog! I was a writer today being my own worst enemy. Reading your words has been helpful!!! Thank you

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Thanks Rhonda, but my curiosity is piqued … was it about being a writer … or about what you actually wrote? Whichever, thanks for checking in!