I used to think if I had an inner critic, it wasn’t very strong. I don’t hear voices in my head telling me I’m stupid or incompetent or ugly, so I thought I was safe. Turns out, our inner critics speak to us in different ways, and some are more subtle. Mine often starts with the question, “Why can’t you?” Why can’t you figure this out? Why can’t you learn this? Why can’t you get more done?
As artists and entrepreneurs, we are in charge of every aspect of our work. We may get help from others at times, but the responsibility for the outcomes falls squarely on our shoulders. We are making difficult decisions all day long, and the consequences of our actions will directly affect everything we do. It’s a lot of pressure. And our inner critics prey on that.
It’s easy to tell someone to just ignore their inner critic. People say things like, “You just have to believe in yourself” or “focus on the things you’re doing right” or “be kind to yourself, you’re doing the best you can,” to which our inner critics respond, “Yeah, right.”
I’ve heard strategies suggesting we fight back against our inner critics or we learn to ignore them or we even befriend them. But what if I’m not feeling up to a fight that day? What if I’m feeling too vulnerable to ignore? What if I’m feeling too angry to befriend? I believe there is never just one way to do anything, even to conquer our demons. What we can do every time, though, is acknowledge them. Recognize them as part of who we are, but take away their power by refusing to let them define us. If we all have inner critics, then we are not in this alone. We are no better or worse than anyone else.
It’s like I told my daughter before she headed off to college, “You are going to make a lot of mistakes over the next year. Don’t you dare beat yourself up about it. Learn from your errors, correct them if you can, but remember that everyone around you is making mistakes too. That’s how we learn.”