Ask Yourself This When Your Inner Critics Are Really Loud

Before I left my corporate job, I said I wasn’t scared about the unknown, the uncertainty of forging a new path, finding a new way of living. And that was true: working at Google taught me I had to accept that the only thing constant was change and the only way to be comfortable working there was to learn how to navigate uncertainty and ambiguity.

What I was much less prepared for, though, was the reemergence of insecurities – what I call inner critics – that I thought I’d gotten past. But oh no – they were just sleeping. Sleeping Giants, to be exact. And I’ll tell you: that jump off the cliff woke them right up and jolted them right into action.

I’ve realized that, while I thought I’d beaten my imposter syndrome and perfectionist tendencies through years of therapy, mindfulness, and inner work, it’s really that I’d just been playing it safe for so long that there wasn’t much need for my inner critics. They went dormant when they didn’t have much to feed on.

Inner critics come from the part of our brain designed to keep us safe. So of course it makes sense that when I jumped off the metaphorical cliff into the fog, they’d get a little antsy. Nothing says danger like a freefall into the unknown.

I went from having a schedule I was used to, and being an expert at the work I was doing, and colleagues around me supporting me, and being respected for my contributions and working at a highly prestigious company to having none of that. Now I have no set schedule, I am completely in charge of every decision, I am at the very bottom of a very steep learning curve, I am unknown and unsure, and I am the brand. 

For someone whose inner critics focus primarily on the need to be perfect and fearing being seen as a fraud, it’s certainly given them a LOT of ammunition. I’ve spent the past few months with their whispers getting louder and louder in my head, telling me I shouldn’t do things because I don’t know what I’m doing, or I should wait until I’m certain I can do it right, or I should wait until I know more, or I shouldn’t start because what if I screw up or disappoint someone or underdeliver or look silly or look dumb or….

Unfortunately, over the past month, it’s begun to feel like my inner critics have megaphones and I’ve spent a little too much time listening to them. 

I’ve felt stuck, paralyzed to do anything – I’ve been focused more on getting things right than getting things moving. While it hasn’t stopped me from thinking about things over and over.. and over and over…it has stopping me from actually taking action. 

If I don’t do things, I won’t screw up – I won’t risk looking dumb or being “exposed”. But if I don’t do things, I’ll never learn, I’ll never improve and I’ll never grow. 

Avoiding the thing we don’t want to do does not make the thing go away – in fact, I think it gives it more power. By turning away from it, trying to avoid it, it feels oppressive – it’s always there, hiding in the shadows, burdening us with its ominous presence. 

I can’t tell you how much time and mental energy I’ve spent thinking about doing things and not doing them – so much more time than it would take to actually just face it and do it

Feeling stuck is a terrible feeling. It’s stressful, it’s disempowering, it’s confidence-sucking, it’s energy-draining. I’ve had so many arguments with myself: “why can’t you just move”, “just go do it already”, “what’s the worst that can happen?” And yet, that self-talk isn’t helping – berating myself for what I should be doing and am not doing only makes me feel worse. 

The good news is, I’m aware of what’s going on. I can see it happening. Rather than trying to shy away from it or pretend it’s not there, I’m getting curious about it and trying to learn from it. And that’s why I know that I’m not going to let my inner critics win.

I really believe this is a natural part of my evolution and growth. It makes sense that my dormant insecurities would come up when I put myself out there in a way I never have before. 

Don’t get me wrong – it’s really effing uncomfortable facing down my inner critics that I’ve always placated in the past, trying to get them to go away. 

But this experience – no matter how uncomfortable and unfun it is – is one I’m trying to appreciate, because it means I’m actually pushing myself and I’m actually growing. 

I’m trying to embrace now that these critics are a part of me – not a part to be ignored or denied, and certainly not to be placated – because it’s pretty likely that I will face them again each time I reach for a new level. While I was caught off guard with their reawakening this time around, I want to be more prepared for them in the future.

They probably won’t ever entirely go away (though I’d love to be wrong about that!) but the more I can get comfortable with seeing them for what they are – simply fears designed to protect me – the less power they have over me and the faster I can get back into action versus staying stuck.

So, going forward, rather than asking myself “How can I do this right?”, I’m asking myself “What can I do right now?” Instead of looking ahead and being overwhelmed by all the things I don’t know or could get wrong and thus stopping myself before I get started, I’m committed to focusing on taking the step in front of me. 

Because even if they are baby steps, and even if it means my inner critics walk alongside me for awhile, it still means I’m moving and I’m not staying stuck.

This article was originally published on Medium on February 24, 2019 

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