I did something crazy this week…
I started writing a book.
Within the first 5 minutes of coming up with a clear vision in my head, I was putting pen to paper, jotting down notes as fast as I could before they evaporated back into the creative cloud never to be seen again. I was excited, inspired, motivated and ready, and then…something shifted.
It took no less than 5 minutes for my inner critic to chime in with her stingy ability to crush every single dream, hope, and desire I’ve had since I was a little girl. Instantly, my inner dialogue transformed from one of excitement and creativity to something along the lines of this:
“Maybe this topic needs a little tweaking.”
“Maybe I should re-think this idea.”
“Maybe these characters are silly.”
“Maybe this topic is silly.”
“Who am I kidding? I can’t write a book.”
“Who in their right mind would want to read that?”
“I’m a stupid, millenial blogger. I write captions on Instagram for a living. I can’t write fiction.”
“I never went to an art school or majored in English or earned any other sort of accolade that makes me remotely qualified to do this.”
“I was a fucking lawyer for Christ’s sake. Not a goddam poet.”
“I don’t look like a writer.”
“People like me can only write nonfiction self-help books, not novels.”
“This idea is actually really, truly stupid.”
“I’m trying to be ‘artsy’ when in reality, I’m just a big ol’ fraud.”
“Why bother writing the book, it’s not like I will ever land a book deal anyway.”
“I’ve never taken so much as a writing class in my entire life, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Only naturally talented people can write novels, and I am not naturally talented.”
“Everything I decide to do ends up being a joke.”
“I am worthless.”
“I am a failure.”
“I am a fraud.”
“I am an embarrassment to myself and everyone around me.”
“I should get a real job.”
Did you see what happened there? Somehow, a few doubts and fears about a new writing topic turned into a complete annihilation of my self worth, capabilities, talent (I actually know that I am, arguably, a pretty decent writer), and even my outward appearance (I don’t look like a writer…what the hell is that?!). And all in just a matter of minutes.
We all have an inner critic that is just waiting for the right moment to strike, usually when something truly incredible is on the horizon. On more than one occasion, my own inner critic has tried, desperately, to stop me from doing something incredible, including my decision to leave the law.
Yup, you better believe that bitch was running full steam ahead when I conjured up the idea that, perhaps, I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore. And for the better part of nearly a year, she almost won.
But then, I dove into a yoga practice and things began to shift. Slowly, I started to learn what my inner critic looked like and, just as importantly, started differentiating my own negative self talk from truth (both of which can rarely, if ever, exist at the same time).
One of the best therapists I’ve ever worked with told me that it helps to assign a complete identity to your inner critic so you can spot her in action, identify her by name, and then tell her to shut up. I’m not kidding. My inner critic’s name is Heather.
Why? Because I really have yet to come across a nice Heather. Maybe they exist, I’m sure they must, but I truly associate the Heather’s of the world as more of a mean-girl-in-middle-school-that-makes-fun-of-your-shoes breed. Other possible names for your inner critic include: Regina George, Gretchen Weiners, Becky With The Good Hair, and, if you really want to be metal about it, Stalin.
Once you’ve given her a name, it also helps to envision what your inner critic would look like if she were a living, breathing human. Bonus points if you can conjure up an entire backstory for her and a career.
For example, Heather has naturally chestnut hair with golden highlights and always walks around with a near-perfect blowout. She carries one of those white and multi-colored Louis Vuitton purses that were all the rage in the early 00’s and is usually wearing those god-awful Birkinstock clogs we all thought were a fabulous fashion decision. Yes, even in 2018. Which brings me to Heather’s career and personal life…
Heather currently works part-time at Applebee’s so she can fund her shopping and drinking addictions while saving up for grad school. She’s never had a real boyfriend, but instead meets dudes at the bars in her local Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse and, you guessed it…Applebee’s. She lives in an apartment with 2 roommates in a suburb outside of some B-list city like St. Louis or Sacramento. She hates carbs, but loves vodka sodas. She has a tiny chihuahua named Cupcake and never talks to her family because “she’s evolved beyond that.” She hangs out with the same group of people she met in high school every weekend, and only left home for a short stint at some state school 2 hours from her hometown before moving back when she was 22. She posts perfectly-edited selfies on Instagram and loves Soul Cycle. She drinks caramel macchiatos from Starbucks. Her favorite movie is Clueless and her favorite TV show is Grey’s Anatomy. And she has her entire wedding picked out and ready to go on Pinterest.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and publicly declare that I would not, under any circumstances, be friends with Heather in real life. As the southerners say, “Bless her heart.” And I sure as hell would never ask her for any life-altering advice or listen to a word she had to say about my own professional or personal aspirations.
That’s the thing about our inner critics, whether you name yours Stan or Judy or Carl or Chad, they all have one thing in common: they suck. Our inner critics are always pretty terrible people and we would never in our right minds listen to a word they have to say in the real world.
So why do we indulge them all the damn time?
Because we’re scared. We’re scared of the things that might go wrong but, even more so, we’re scared of the things that might go right.
Take me for example – I am a writer, that’s what I do. It’s not some dreamy thing I have pinned on a vision board, it pays my bills. And I am a good writer at that. How do I know this? Because thousands of people around the world care about what I have to say every Friday. Because I’ve had employers tell me as much. Because I’ve won writing competitions and received scholarships for my writing. Because I just created an entire character profile for my own inner critic.
So, assuming that all of the above are true and I start to write a book, what could happen? Well for starters, it could turn out to be pretty decent. Maybe even good. And it very well could get published.
I know what you’re thinking, “Umm, Elizabeth? I’m sorry to interrupt, but getting published is a good thing…”
Sure. But getting published also means that a piece of my soul will be readily available to the masses. It means that anyone and everyone will now have the opportunity to see the Real Elizabeth, in black and white, plain as day. No more Lawyer persona or Light and Love mentality to fall back on. Just me: raw, real, true.
In a weird way, our inner critics are trying their hardest to be our best friend. They pick on us and tear us down in a feeble attempt to protect us from harm. But as admirable as these efforts may be, we can’t give into this negative self talk, this constant sea of questioning and hatred.
If we do, that book is never going to get finished. That career change is never going to happen. That promotion will never come. That car will never drive itself onto your driveway. That trip to Thailand will never happen. That wedding will die a slow death on your Pinterest board.
If we wait until things are easy or simple, we will be waiting an entire lifetime. If we give into the crappy advice of the Heather’s of the world, we won’t get anywhere and we will end up just as stuck as they are.
So, sorry Heather, but I think I’ll write the damn book.
Save me a bloomin’ onion though, those things are great…
The Yogi Lawyer