Put your inner critic in the corner

by Jill Sockman

My inner critic has a strong voice. Maybe she was a cheerleader. Or lead vocalist in a metal band — the kind where it sounds like a lot of angry screaming instead of singing. I’ve worked hard, and I mean really, really, really hard in the past few years to put her in her place. And please note I said put in her place — removed from her throne — not banished from the kingdom of my inner world.

Because she absolutely does have a place. The benevolent(-ish) side of that inner critic is the instigator for much that I have accomplished, and is in part responsible for making me who I am. That voice is part of the totality that is me in this world. She just needs a gag a lot of the time. She needs to be told in no uncertain terms that while her opinion is sometimes valued in creating new work, honing a skill or perfecting a craft, when it comes to what I’m doing, how I look, what I’ve accomplished or who I am as a human being on this earth, she just doesn’t get a vote.

Because the trouble with letting the inner critic run the show — especially if yours is as bossy and insufferable as mine, is she will never let you feel good about anything: there will always be room for improvement; someone else is always going to do it better; the state of perfection she’s demanding simply does not exist. And through that lens I will forever be a failure, always falling short, never good enough. Like, not ever. Most of all, listening to her endless, deafening chatter about what is wrong doesn’t leave any space for enjoying what is right.

And so as I return home from New York where I was leading a three-day corporate retreat for a group of strangers in a new environment — an arena ripe for Her Former Highness to unload her criticisms of all the ways I didn’t meet her impossible expectations for perfection — I notice she is quiet. As in silent. And that space has allowed for celebration. My co-lead Carrington and I have offered constructive feedback to each other as individuals and about our shared work. We’ve talked about how we will do it differently next time. But most of all we have reveled in a job well done. We’ve shared our delight at a new collaboration gone incredibly well. We’ve reviewed endlessly the details and our gratitude for the opportunity, the experience, the connections, and the gifts given and received.

I’ve lived my professional life with the intention of teaching by example that it’s okay to be how you are: okay to be angry, okay to be sad, okay to fail, okay to be vulnerable. And in this moment, I have the chance to be okay with being okay — and it’s a bit revelatory because that just hasn’t always been the case. I’m sharing this because I know many people who are so quick to judge themselves with that razor sharp blade of unattainable perfection. And if any of this sounds at all familiar, I want so much for you to know there’s another way. Putting your inner critic in the corner, preferably in another room, is a game changer.

Let’s be clear. I’ve mastered nothing. Tomorrow or next week or next month She of Impossible Standards will escape her broom closet and will be heard shouting an endless stream of deleterious commentary about something I am doing and another dethroning will be necessary. But depose her I will. As many times as it takes. Because celebrating our little triumphs and joys is what makes this life worth living. And it can only be done if you’re willing to drag the heckling, tomato-throwing, obnoxious beasty in the front row out of the club and onto the street.

Please join me. Thank your perfectionistic, judging self for the ways it helps you excel, discern, and drive you to new levels. And then ask that critic to step away from center stage, because the imperfect, whole and grateful you is ready to shine, and the approval of Judge and Jury is quite simply not required.