The biggest constraint to shine and become happy and successful (to your own standards) is very often the inner critic. It’s the little voice in your head, saying: “Nah, you can’t do that. It won’t be good enough. They’ll see you’re a fraud. They’ll judge. Better stay away from this endeavor.”
It’s the little voice weakening you; it’s self-doubt and fear. With the best of intentions, this little voice tries to keep you safe and away from hurtful comments and harsh critics in the outer world.
Yesterday, I ended up in the pub with my choir mates after rehearsal. Many of them work in healthcare or education, and some of them fear layoffs due to downsizing in these sectors or have lost their job in these last years. One of them is struggling to build up a practice as a self-employed coach and facilitator for groups – helping people develop their people skills. The part she struggles with is how to pitch and how to sell herself. “I don’t feel at ease doing so – it’s not my thing!” she said. “While I know my work is of value for my clients – even after a year they tell me how much they benefited from my facilitation.”
An interesting conversation evolved to identify why so many self-employed professionals (and so many women – and so many Dutch people) have trouble presenting themselves to sell their services. National culture, gender roles, and personal issues passed the pub table. The biggest constraint to shine and become happy and successful (to your own standards) is very often the inner critic. It’s the little voice in your head, saying: “Nah, you can’t do that. It won’t be good enough. They’ll see you’re a fraud. They’ll judge. Better stay away from this endeavor.”
You can’t criticize and judge others without judging yourself. Activate compassion Click To Tweet
It’s the little voice weakening you while you pitch; it’s self-doubt, and fear. With the best of intentions, this little voice tries to keep you safe and away from hurtful comments and harsh critics in the outer world. The little voice is right: those comments and criticisms occur. But harsh criticism comes from people who are just as scared as you are – who are criticizing themselves as well – because you can’t criticize and judge others without judging yourself – in one way or the other. They don’t have an accepting, compassionate attitude – to self and others.
The little voice
How we judge! We’ve been raised with judgments – and we think we need them to discern good from bad and to feel good about ourselves. It’s a never-ending learning journey for most of us – at least for me. It’s okay to assess something – but not to judge someone. It’s a part of our past that we have to come to terms with while we develop ourselves. The little voice, an internalized parental-teacher-authority, who keeps us safe – but also small, nondescript and judgmental toward others. It’s tough. It keeps challenging us, leaders, consultants, coaches, professionals.
Margo Boster, OD-consultant and yoga teacher, confesses: “There was a bit of me that questioned if I was doing what they wanted – did I live up (or down) to their standards? And I quickly remembered: “Their standards” – who are They? And why would I give away my opinion and worth to some unknown “they”?”
She explains: “Self-worth is defined as the opinion you have about yourself and the value you place on yourself. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is a favorable opinion or high regard for something or someone. Self-worth comes from INSIDE – who we are; self-esteem comes from OUTSIDE – how we are doing.”
Self-esteem is more conditional: it’s great when you did a good job, but what if you made a mistake? How quickly do you forgive yourself and move on? Do you dwell on judging and criticizing yourself?
I love Margo’s conclusion: I am not “better” than you; you are not “better” than me. Which is better – the orange or the lettuce? Neither – they both add value to different things. As do you and me.
Join – instead of judge
As we act on the outside, so we are on the inside – and vice versa. Do you judge your coworkers? Judith Katz and Fred Miller researched how to foster collaboration and to enable organizations to accelerate results. Judith: “When we feel judged, we act small and contribute less. When we feel we are joined, we can be big and contribute more.”
Are you setting an example of a “joining” interaction within your team or are you displaying more of “judging”? You will identify a judging interaction when you or the other person in the interaction is being cautious, sizing up people, putting people in a box, and not giving the benefit of the doubt. When you have a joining interaction, you’ll notice that you or the other person is being open, leaning in, assuming connection and giving the benefit of the doubt.
Oh, but it takes so much work on ourselves to become “joining”, to assess what could be improved but still accept things and people as they are. Instead of judging, dismissing, distancing and shutting out. Inner work to soften the little voice, to make the harsh inner and outer critic kinder, more accepting and constructive. Critic and comments are useful – because we can always develop ourselves further – but in a “joining” way.
I am not better than you; you are not better than me. #leading self Click To Tweet
Let’s not be arrogant know-alls who consider themselves to be seasoned consultants or senior leaders. Every human being can benefit from another perspective, from support, from new pathways. We tend to take our world views for reality and judge the others as wrong. So we give advice and tell others what to do… Shall we ask more? And appreciate asking more? “60% of issues is solved by listening and noticing,” states Professor Steven Cady. “The point is to make the system self-aware.” He proposes we learn more from our consulting assignments by discussing them with fellow consultants.
Are you good enough?
Fear of being judged keeps consultants marginal – they may not make an impact and serve their client as they should and could, says consultant Daryl Conner. “Providing “help” is what practitioners do when they accommodate what their clients ask for or are comfortable with, instead of what is needed for change to succeed. Practicing the craft means staying true to what your chosen approach indicates should be done, even if that runs against clients’ expectations.”
Consultant Graham Williams emphasizes the skill of letting-go – an advanced skill for leaders and professionals. “When we fail to let go (a negative feeling, limiting belief, emotional block, a judgment), then the hurt, the paralysis, the condition continues. We fall short of being what we could be. We remain stuck. Sometimes a leader has to let go of playing a role, projecting an image – and simply be him/herself: human, vulnerable, but authentic.”
Stop judging yourself – join in! You are YOU, a unique contribution to our world. And so are the others. Even while we are still learning and developing our mindsets and skills.
WHO you are is already good enough. Do that pitch and sell your services, and let the little voice encourage you.
This was my reflection, based on issue 11 of our former magazine. The back issues are accessible for paying members, see below how you can join us.
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Marcella Bremer co-founded this Leadership & Change Blog and OCAI-online.com. She’s an author and culture & change consultant.