April 26, 2023
Maybe you have done this, created an entire life-game-plan-new-invention-brilliant-idea in your mind. The excitement builds and momentum flourishes. You’re feeling the wind at your back with your super hero cape blowing behind you. The red carpet is being rolled out as you accept your Grammy and the words on the page all seem to be flowing. Then all of a sudden, a hush falls over the land and the sky fills with ominous clouds. All the little woodland creatures take cover-even they know it’s going to be bad-and with a hush the darkness arrives. Like the memorable scene in Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent appears–uninvited–into the castle and creates chaos at what was once a joyous moment to celebrate the new baby Princess, so has this unwanted visitor arrived. The unwelcome guest is our: inner critic.
Another word for our inner critic is fear. The fear of putting everything we have into our goal and failing. The fear of no matter what we do the dream doesn’t work. The fear of what others will think of us or not think of us. The list of fears mutates and multiplies, but the root is the same. It is the act of lying on our back and letting our vulnerable underbelly see the sunshine, where we risk being poked and prodded, bruised and ridiculed. It is finally having the courage to push past our comfort zone and then having the door slammed by our critic telling us all the ways this idea won’t work. All the ways we will fail. All the things we could do with our time instead of working on this project. And how many ways we will be mocked for trying.
Have you ever been to a t-ball game? The teams are made up of four, five and six-year-olds. Some of the kids have played either on a prior team or with their parents. These kids usually have it dialed in. They have a basic understanding of how to hit the softball and even how to throw and catch it. Sometimes you get a superstar kid that practices like they are getting ready for college try-outs, usually motivated by a competitive parent, who will smash the ball the first time you place it on the tee. Then you have the rest of the kids. Their skills are anywhere from I have a little knowledge and I’m motivated to try all the way to I’m just here for the snack bags.
But what I find interesting are the ones who start out not knowing much of anything, but they keep trying. They might fall in the line-up right after the superstar kid, the kid who hits a homerun every time they are up to bat, but they still go up swinging. It doesn’t seem to bother them if they get out or not. They swing, smile and skip their way back into the dugout. After the game, the superstars and the needs-improvement-kids sit down next to each other and everyone happily digs into their snack bags.
In the many years of assisting my husband coach various teams, we have never had a kid say “I’m not good at this.” There have been a few that would rather talk about nail polish than go to the out field or tell me elaborate stories about their pets in between innings, or that it’s too hot or too cold to play, but not once have I heard a kids’ inner critic come out.
Now doesn’t that make you want to approach life like a five year old t-baller? Where you dive in and the end result isn’t a big deal. Where the goal we are striving for is to participate, do the process, without worrying so much about the outcome. Where our focus becomes a celebration of the steps we have made rather than the end result. What if the lessons learned throughout the journey were more important than the final product because in the end the process is what taught the lessons we needed to do the next thing? None of the girls on our t-ball team were getting drafted at the end of the season, but they did learn a lot about teamwork, listening and following directions. As an elementary school teacher, I’m a big fan of kids learning (and reinforcing) all those lessons!
I wrote this blog post because I needed it. Maybe you can relate too. I get caught up in the editing before I even get the thought out. I’ve already cut myself down before the idea has had a chance to grow legs. Living in the world of criticism does not breed creativity–it stifles it. My fear comes in several forms, but most notably it is under the guise of anxiety that often sneaks up on me. It veils itself as a helper and motivator, but all it does is scramble my thoughts and speed up my heart. Anger and frustration usually bubble to the surface soon after and I’m left feeling out of control. The more I push back, the more intense it feels.
I’ve come to realize the antidote is not to will it away. Rather that gives fear more power, instead I am learning to embrace it. To invite fear to the party, but only as a guest-not the host. To let fear sit right down next to my ambition and ideas, but not allow it to put its hands on the steering wheel. I think fear can be a motivator. Sometimes the bigger the dream, the temperature of our fear can be a clear indicator that we are onto something.
Perhaps even something big.
If our focus shifts from controlling the outcome to instead building the idea, then a beautiful thing usually happens. Momentum propels us, either in the direction of our objective or it opens a window to a new idea, either way the time is not lost. The skills are not lost. Most importantly our trying was a crucial rung in our journey to lead us to the next vital step.
The plan does not always follow the blueprint we have in our mind, but what if I told you that was part of the process. The doing is as much a part of where we are supposed to end up. I think the tragedy comes when the fear smothers us. When it pours over us and paralyzes us. When the breath is sucked out and we are left with a shell of what our idea once was. When our inner critic crushes us before we even have a chance to get started. But what if instead, we use fear as a gauge. As a barometer that our idea must be a good one if it stirs this kind of a frenzy within us. It gives fear a purpose and a position, a practical application rather than lighting a match in a hay field.
We all have fears. There will always be areas in our life that cause our hearts to beat faster and sweat to bead up on our foreheads. Moments where the edge of our comfort zone meets the beginning of a new possibility. Where we have to decide if we are willing to settle and hang out on the porch of mediocrity, or if we are willing to close our eyes, perhaps say a prayer, and take the first step. Allowing every feeling to wash over us, but to do the hard stuff anyway. To love our inner critic, thank them for their feedback, but not let their fear keep us chained to our perceived limitations. Instead, with a deep breath and our idea in hand, we leap.