I have a voice inside (not a literal one, but it’s the best way to describe it) that isn’t very nice. It’s this voice that pipes up whenever I’m getting ready to try something new and it always is quick to point out all the reasons I’m destined to fail.
Maybe you have this voice, too.
It tells me how ridiculous it is for someone my age to be doing this or how I’m not old enough to be taken seriously doing this. It tells me how I’ve never been strong enough, athletic enough, smart enough, creative enough…or whatever it is I need to be in order to succeed. It tells me how I’m wasting valuable time on something that’s never going to work out. It nitpicks every move I make and is quick to argue that I might as well quit.
It’s quieter when things are going well, but it waits and then…when things get difficult, it gets louder, using every bit of evidence it can.
If you’re around my age, you remember the two old critics in the Muppet Show. For some reason, these two had their very own box seats in the audience and they endlessly heckled Kermit and his crew. They were always negative and if they did show any support, it was with backhanded compliments. My inner critic is like them and it also loves to search anything others say for any hint of doubt or negativity, then take that, amplify it 100 times and play it back over a megaphone at me.
Years ago, this inner critic piped up when I decided I was going to try to learn how to ride a motorcycle.
It came up with all the logical reasons why this was doomed to failure before I even began. The inner voice reminded me of driving mishaps going all the way back to being 4 years old on my Kitty Cat snowmobile. It didn’t really care that I’d grown a bit since then or since riding my parent’s lawn mower through the apple trees. To that voice, once I’ve tasted defeat just once…that’s it…any endeavor even remotely related to that experience will be doomed forever and ever. That voice was loud as anything as I went through my motorcycle safety course and it laughed each and every time in the first day when I killed the engine coming into first gear.
Who was I to think I could do this thing? Why was I even trying?
I wish I could say something more inspiring than that sheer stubbornness kept me going that day and the next. I kept going because I was not going to let my inner critic or any of my outer critics have the last word. The next day I came back and, having gotten more practice with the bike the day before, things just kind of clicked and I easily passed my motorcycle driving test. A year later, I’ll never forget one old biker telling my husband, “Man, your girl can ride!” It’s about the highest compliment he could have given and it was true…I’d become good at riding a motorcycle and a better driver as well!
That inner critic has been really active these past few months as I’ve stretched outside my comfort zone and tried new things. Is it my imagination or does that voice get louder and more obnoxious the older we get? This time, it says things like, “Well, you never WERE an athlete,” or, “Who do you think you are that anyone would read what you have to say?” or, “You’re wasting your time trying these things. You’re old and you’re just going to be fat and old.”
Wow is she mean.
Some mornings, though, that same stubborn streak comes right back up, just as it did the weekend of my motorcycle safety test. I pull myself out of bed and I add a little more weight, one more rep, or push a little longer in my run just to shut it up. I defiantly thumb my nose at its proclamations just as I did on the motorcycle. I keep at these new things I’m trying even though I don’t know where they might lead. I like to think the more I defy that mean inner voice…the less it will pipe up to steal away my confidence or joy.
I also try to teach my kids that we aren’t defined by our past or what we’ve been able to do before, but by what we choose to do right now, in this moment.
It doesn’t matter that you weren’t a (fill in the blank here) before. You can make today the day you start being that, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been a good student up to this point. You can choose to live today doing the things a good student does, then again tomorrow and, eventually, you’ll be that good student. Or runner. Or author. Or coach. Or…whatever YOUR dream is.
I’ve found that voice will always be there, somewhere in the background, but the less I give in to it, the less power it has and the quieter it becomes.