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Quieting My Brutal, Relentless Inner Critic

I’m wordless sometimes. I know—it’s hard to believe:) But some days I wonder how a word could possibly come from me that would matter to you. I wonder in fact, how I’ll do anything today that is meaningful, good enough.

Sometimes I’ll go on with my day carrying around this little critic— she’ll follow me everywhere. If I’m working on a writing project, she’ll wonder if it’ll ever get published, ever make the impact I hope for. If I’m talking to my kids, she’ll speculate that my words aren’t meaningful enough, not light-hearted, not serious enough, or not fun. If I’m swimming laps in the pool, she’ll consider that perhaps I’m not swimming fast enough, not doing enough laps. Or she’ll suggest that I shouldn’t be swimming at all, but should be attending to one of the million things that need doing outside the pool. If I’m biking in the alps, reveling at the scenery, she’ll remind me of my sick kid, of the sheets that need changing, the clothes that must be cleaned.

If I’m playing Monopoly with the kids, she’ll remind me of the stack of bills inside, the unwashed dishes, the phone calls I must make, the weeds that need yanking, the social cause that I need to fight for. If I’m having coffee with a friend, she’ll be there, quietly reminding me to finish my novel, to get to the grocery store.

And if I’m at the grocery store, she’ll be there telling me I’m taking too much time. Why can’t I just get my stuff and go in five minutes?

If I’m not careful, she’ll go on and on.

Yet when it comes to a stranger on the street, a friend, a child— that critic usually flits away. When I get out of my own 48-year-old body, I can look at other people and clearly see that perfect is ridiculous. In fact, I recognize that a person’s flaws make her approachable, lovable, real. I’m able to see that the way a friend handles her day, her marriage, her parenting, her illness, her free time, her workout, her career— it’s all an integral, imperfect part of her path as a human. Like rocks tumbling down from a mountain, her steps don’t land the way I’d place them. But see how the rocks allow flowers to grow between them? See how the water rushes down them? I’m able to tell my children that the direction, the speed with which each one learns and grows and develops interests and friendships…this is an individual path— a path that is good. It’s enough. I’m able to say that.

So how do I stop tormenting myself? I know, I know… you want to say it’s simple. The answers are everywhere on Facebook, in magazines, on blogs, etc. Like yourself. Be kind to yourself. Take a bubble bath. Pray. Do yoga. Meditate. Stop being so critical. That’s what everybody says.

Simple, right?

Not for me.

My critic quiets only when I turn her head outward, away from me. The only way to make her stop chattering on about me is to stop thinking so much about me. Stop. Look beyond my mood, my inhale, my body, my workout, my children, my home, my problems, my success, my failure…. my, my, my.

The only way I can get that critic to shut up for a while is to help her look up. Look up and away from tiny me. Look at the hills, the flowers, the stranger, the other. My critic can't criticize the sky, the clouds, the glacial waters down the hill from my home. My critic can't find fault in the big round expectant eyes of a child. She can’t rethink the sun slowly falling to sleep along a line of green field.

The only way I can stop that critic from sucking me down is to get down, to agree with her, to say true, I’m not enough. I'm not supposed to be enough. I’m not enough because I need my husband, my children, my friends, the stranger. I need my dog, the lake, the forest, the air, the land around me. I need mistakes, embarrassment, failure and challenges. I need teachers. I need prayers. I need God.

So the next time I don’t have any words, I don’t have a fascinating, impactful purpose. The next time I know I'm not saying something so well, not pleasing somebody— I’ll try to remember to look away from myself. Look out the window, look in a book, look inside the story, the eyes of someone else. I’ll see what and who are out there. I’ll go on about my day, accepting it. I'll write from the beauty and purpose and grace that rises and falls and flourishes despite me.

How simple is that?

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