This blog post is for those of you who struggle with that inner narrative that tells you what you are incapable of. For anyone who has a critic in their mind that constantly holds the possibilities of their lives at bay. I feel your struggle.
I don’t just “wrestle” with my Critic.
Exchanges between my Critic and I are a scene straight out of John Wick (**if you haven’t seen the movies, give them a quick search then return so the tone of this extended metaphor makes sense lol**).
Here I am, working on my next three books. Full of hope. Daring to live my life as boldly as possible.
There she is, grinning, malicious. She begins the onslaught.
“You can’t do this a second time, the first was a fluke. You have made every mistake walking away from your military career. There is no turning back.”
Her words hit me before I can move out of their reach. I clutch my side, gasping for air… I cannot stem the flow of fear.
Grinding my teeth, I glare at my inner Critic, then glance around.
Around us lies an ambiguous body count of confidence: my hopes dashed one by one. Over and over she launches her lies my way. When one strikes true, the Critic looks at me and grins in malice. Without wielding a weapon, she takes aim, and fires at my psyche. Her words wreck me far beyond the physical.
The only answer is distance. Perspective.
I dodge, rolling through the shattering glass of my goals. I’m not strong enough to meet them today as I fall off the tenth story of The Continental hotel to avoid her.
Casually, ten stories down, I land on my feet and walk through the front doors of The Continental. As you know, there is no business on hotel grounds. She sullenly follows.
The scene has ended.
We sit at the bar. The bartender nods at me; she immediately begins to pour a glass of prosecco. I like routine, and she knows I believe bubbles feel like possibility waiting to be written. The bartender slides the glass over, golden and glittering. She looks to the Critic, her expression suddenly but carefully guarded. The Critic hesitates, then orders a _____ (you, my reader, may select what goes here. Think of the most obnoxious drink you can imagine – that is what she orders).
(It is at this moment I turn and look at YOU, the reader, from my seat in this blog post.)
We break the fourth wall as I tell you this: were it not for my inner critic, I may have pursued my creative dreams beginning fifteen years ago. But it is funny how the voices of others who doubt us become HER voice, her opinions… and eventually ours. Yet… she used to be way worse. We have reached a level of understanding and now avoid escalating the internal violence further. This is thanks to the newest and third member of my inner critique group:
My Inner Champion.
(I turn back to the bar,. Yours and my moment of shared understanding solidifies.)
My Champion is pissed because I could have avoided the broken glass ten stories above us by listening to her. We focus so much time on our critic, but how long does it take us to realize we also have an inner champion if we listen closely enough?
My Champion is everything I hope one day to be. Confident beyond measure, able to always see to the core of things.
“Are you done being difficult?” she asks, glancing at my Critic.
“No, we will return to the tenth story after this… we have barely gotten started for the evening” my Critic responds.
“We are done for today.” I retort.
My Champion pushes between us, taking a seat in the middle for herself, and stares pointedly at the Critic. “None of that drama was necessary. She is working on her next two picture books, and both will be beautiful.”
The Critic scowls into her (insert drink you the reader selected that you find obnoxious). “She thinks too highly of herself, what she wants to do is not possible. She is incapable. She is not enough, thinks too highly of herself, and no one cares for her work.”
I consider retorting with something vicious but decide to empower my Champion instead. After all, both voices exist within me. *I* have the power to decide who gets amplified as truth.
I decide my truth, because fears are not fact.
My Champion hears my thoughts, grins, and turns to my Critic.
She knows she is the bastion of hope that walks between my self-belief and the daggers my Critic aims to shatter it.
The Critic’s voice is many. Like something out of Revelations, every cruel taunt or comment that ever cut me gets catalogued in the library of her vicious tirades.
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” she says, reminding me of the Fight Club quote painted outside my dorm room at the Air Force Academy.
“She is unique beyond measure.” My Champion whispers back.
The Critics’ eyes flash as she screams “you are incapable of pursuing art and writing! You are too skinny, and you are too fat! No one finds you interesting or worth listening to! You are too inexperienced! Not talented enough! You have too much personality! Dial it back! You only got lucky with this first book. There will not be another. YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH.”
Slice after slice she tries to move closer. But I align with my Champion. I align with MYSELF. I realize the truth I choose in my life is the narrative I myself write. I do not have to subscribe to self-limiting beliefs – not when it comes to my military career OR my art career.
I finish my prosecco. “Your opinions no longer hold sway here” I say. “Your shaming critical nature will never again inform my decisions.”
I consider smashing my empty glass in her face… but instead I stand. Grab my inner champion by the hand, and walk out. My life is a movie I direct and produce. I am the protagonist. And I won’t be dissuaded from my own success.
We write the narrative of our own story. We must learn that external messaging comes in through the conduit of the critic to get us to play smaller and see ourselves as LESS.
But believe me when I say to you: your work deserves to live boldly and brightly in the world. I don’t care what profession you find yourself in, or what it is you bring to life. This is true regardless. No matter how cutting the critic may be, they do not have the truth of who you are in their hands. They only hold a mirror reflecting fear.
And fear is something we can learn from.
Afraid no one will think your writing or art is good? Answer that fear by improving upon and honing your craft.
Afraid no one will want to hear what you have to say? Seek that innermost part of you that desperately needs the truth only you can share. Now watch as others resonate with your message.
Afraid you don’t belong at the same table as people with years more experience and significantly higher in rank than you? Sit. Anyway. No one has your perspective or voice. No one sees the world the way you do. Claim. Your. Seat. Then do it again.
As I continue to make my way through this transition from Air Force active duty to the Reserves, I find myself navigating a critic louder than usual. I think their volume dials up just as we make the biggest kinds of progress the deepest parts of our heart seek.
So seek it anyway.
I was terrified when I realized I was going to have to off-road a successful career 14 years in the making to create a life more aligned with my dreams. I thought the fear would fade if I was brave enough. It did not.
So I did it afraid.
I am still doing this afraid. Each day when I show up in my studio the Critic sharpens her verbal claws on the other side of the room, and I glance at her warily and get to work writing or painting.
She will not likely ever go away. But unfortunately for her, neither will I. And now I know to prioritize the voice of my inner champion any time the critic starts to pop off.
If I can offer you anything, it would be this: for every cutting thing the critic says, empower your champion to say something back. For every mean thing YOU say to YOURSELF, say at least two nice things. Here is an example:
Critic: “You are not worthy of this achievement.”
Champion: “Wow, okay that was unnecessary. Firstly, we poured our heart into this. We put in the time necessary to achieve this AND the quality of work is impeccable. Second, we deserve it because of who and what we are, not just for what people think of us.”
Switching an inner narrative like this is so empowering. Give it a try.
I’ll be rooting for you from the tenth story of The Continental, ready to break glass in the fight if necessary. We can grab a glass of prosecco afterward. 😉