Every perfectionist knows the self-talk that comes with the territory. It is often said that “I am my own worst critic.” Why is that? Where does that inner critic come from?
As a young child, we know nothing of limits. We imagine without boundaries. We create with abandon. We try without fear. When we fall, we get up. When the door doesn’t open, we try again. Then, one day, something happens. A critique makes us question. A look makes us cringe. An exclamation make us fear.
A new voice joins to the Critics’ Chorus.
Over the year, our chorus grows. Every negative comment that stings us to our soul reverberates in our failures. “What were you thinking?” they say. “Why did you think you could do that?” they mock. Even when we have practiced until our craft becomes second nature, we are not immune to the whispers that cause us to doubt.
So how do I silence the critics that resides in my mind? Too many times, I have taken the course of avoidance. Play it safe and stay firmly inside the ole’ comfort zone. If I only try things when I know I can succeed the first time, surely those guys won’t have any ammunition. It’s a strategy, but it’s not a life.
Lately, I have tried a different tactic. I look at the freedom of young children and dream of having that back. Why not? What is different with them. I believe it’s because they know that not succeeding isn’t the end of the world. Notice I said “not succeeding” instead of “failing.” That’s not an accident. If I see every unsuccessful attempt as “failure” I open the door to those doubts and turn up the volume.
If, instead, I see those same attempts as steps toward mastery, then those doubts fall away. “What was I thinking?” I’m thinking that this attempt was closer than last time. Maybe next time, I’ll get it! Get up and try again. Rip it out and start again (for my crocheting friends). It will be okay because this is a work in progress. I take a deep breath and remember that this is a journey, not a one-time event.
A voice in the chorus goes silent. There is freedom in that silence.
I hope, one day, to completely replace my critics’ chorus with a noisy cheering section. “There you go!” “Nice job!” “That’s what I’m talking about!” One day…