Impact & Playing Bigger

I got the joke.

By November 5, 2014 24 Comments

A few weeks ago, while I was getting prepared for a speaking event, I found out that someone quite famous (famous in the women’s leadership world, anyway) would be attending.

Let’s call that person Judith, for the sake of this post.

Here’s what I knew about Judith: she’s super smart, she’s well-known and well-connected, and she and I disagree about a LOT of things in the women’s empowerment conversation.

So my inner critic took all that in and started feeling really worried about what she’d think of the talk. I started feeling unprepared, less than, not my normal self.

During the speech, from time to time, I’d fall out of flow and stand outside my words, listening to them and imagining how they might sound to her. And of course in my mind the answer to that was always that they sounded incoherent, irrational, mundane.

Afterward, I went over to one of the hosts of the event and said I’d love to meet Judith – after all, despite all my worries, I did also have a lot of respect for her, and wanted to say hello. “Oh,” they said, “she couldn’t make it. Her son ended up getting sick and she needed to stay at home with him.”

It was the oddest moment. All that worry, for nothing. Based on nothing. I had been steeped in my fears about what she would think of the talk. I had imagined her presence in the room as I was talking – and her judgements, her criticism, even her scoffing at some of what I had said. And she was not in the room. All that imagining was simply that: imagining.

I immediately thought: Ok life, I get the joke.

The joke–or the lesson–was this. This was such a great metaphor for what I often do. Because special guest or not, when I’m writing something particularly vulnerable or risky, or when I’m giving a talk to a group that intimidates me, I often find my mind imagining, projecting, the most critical, skeptical, even mean view on my work.

And the truth is, that imagined voice, that judge, is almost never really in the room. It’s just that – imagined. Sure, there will be a range of responses to my work, but most of the time, the external criticism I encounter is so easy-peasy compared to what I fear, so deal-with-able, so just “it is what it is” – nothing like the big boogie-man my own fears make it out to be.

So maybe time to ask yourself – if you are not doing something because you imagine the harsh criticism that could come your way if you do it, or if your joy and full expression is diminished because you, like me, hold in your head what the skeptic would be saying about your work, ask yourself – how would I behave if I knew that voice was really, really, really not in the room? And then do that.



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Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • That’s a great question to ask! What would I do if the critics were not in the room? Because yes, I do hear the critics (in my head) all the time.

  • Tara,
    Sometimes it takes metaphor to make us see what’s right in front of us. I feel your example like a my memory in my bones, dating all the way back to middle school class presentations — what would the cool/mean/popular girl think? Who would have predicted that we are our own “mean girl”? And odds are, that no one else is as critical of ourselves as we are. Thanks for this post. Will share. Laura Nicole Diamond

  • Linda says:

    AWESOME! Thank you for sharing this helpful, very helpful, extremely helpful bit of wisdom. Thank you, Tara, for elevating all of us, right along with you. You go, girl!

  • Catherine says:

    I heard Elisabeth Gilbert say that she writes a book with a particular friend in mind. That way she keeps them as the focus, what would be helpful for them to hear etc.

    I thought it was a wonderful way to create a caring and compassionate space to write/create from, instead of from a critical one.

    Thank you for your ever honest and heartfelt sharing.


  • La'Verne says:

    Hi Tara!

    You are right on point with this post! So many times I have done just that, let what I thought people were thinking or saying about me totally distract what I was doing at the time. However, your book, along with prayer is definitely helping me to slay my inner critic giant. Thank you so much for your insight and your transparency!

  • Thank you for this great post, Tara. Thank you so much for your honesty and sharing that you still have those ‘funny moments’.
    The fiercest critics live inside our own heads.
    I just experienced something similar yesterday when a woman who I’d never thought would be interested in my work told me she’d bought my book and found it fascinating. I had been avoiding talking to her about the contents of my work for fear she might find it ‘ridiculous’! I got the joke too!

  • Margaret says:

    I am enjoying your new book as much as I enjoy receiving your emails that contain such great ideas. Thanks for doing what you do and for sharing your insights. Have a great day!!!

  • Thea says:

    I always love your blogs Tara and thank you so much for this one. I loved your honesty-that the inner critic for you (and the outer ones, especially one particular one you expected to be there) still occasionally have a little bit of effect. It’s refreshing that you’re sharing this with such a sense of humour about it too. It really helps! I’m loving your book too and think this is much needed amazing work.

  • melissa says:

    Tara – great post! I’m wondering about this harsh voice we hear inside – the harshest, most critical, and yes meanest voice. Does it serve any purpose? I understand about the inner critic wanting to protect, and I understand about the shape-shifting nature of the inner critic. But I wonder what is underneath this particularly mean voice. I fear I’m not making my question clear (that’s my own version of this voice feeding the fear). It seems like there’s yet another layer of some kind under that voice and I wonder what your thoughts are on that.

  • Jen Grant says:

    Great post. Thank you so much for sharing as this came just at the moment I needed to hear it (isn’t it always that way?). Blessings …

  • Ek Ongkar Khalsa says:

    Hi Tara- Thanks for sharing. This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning (funny, I most always think that when I ready your blog posts). I so appreciate your writing!

  • Allie Hill says:

    Wow! Brilliant! That really hit home! Thank you for being willing to share your experience! Your honesty, willingness to be vulnerable in sharing your experience show great integrity and soul growth. That you were able to find the humor in the lesson- all the better!
    Thank you!

  • Diane says:

    Just what I needed to read this morning Tara. The world is a more open, loving place with you in it sharing your essence and gifts. Feeling lighter and grateful!

  • ashley says:

    Have you read the book “Loving What Is”? A friend at work suggested it to me because I sometimes do the same thing…worry and analyze a situation which may not even exist. You should check it out.

  • Thank you for your vulnerability…admitting that you do the same silly stuff the rest of us do.
    I needed to hear this today, and there you were, saying it!
    Cant wait to meet you at the TX Women’s Conference next week.

  • Deirdre says:

    So true. I am capable of turning completely normal people into demons in my head because they have some power over me and I am scared we will come into conflict. I’ve learnt a lot from your work on how to come to terms with them! Btw cited your book in a blog the other day:

    You helped me find my voice. Love your work.

  • Liza says:

    Tara….Thank you for yet again, another blog that hits home with an authentic and valuable message. Awesome!

  • Maggie says:

    Hello……….I want to recommend a good book by Dr.Susan Jeffers titled “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway”..I came across this book years ago..oh I say about forty years ago when I was just starting out on my spiritual path of embracing big spirit subjects. I felt a lot of fear but after getting this I decided to do just what it said, not letting anything seperate me from my accomplishments. I also think there are many books on dealing with inner strength’s…encouraging our ability’s to build

  • Melanie McNeil says:

    I *LOVE* that advice, to write for a friend. Thanks for passing that on.

  • Susie S says:

    Hi Tara,
    Thanks for posting this. So timely for me as I discern the next phase of my life. My “committee” is trying to keep me in the comfort zone. All I have to do is imagine them on vacation so I can make progress.

    Thank you for sharing your own struggles in this area and how you learn from them.

  • Adrienne S says:

    I find myself imagining worst criticisms all the time. It’s become a goal of mine to stop listening so intently, and your work inspires that goal frequently. Last week I had a profound opportunity to present my voice (a solo for my gospel choir’s 3 Christmas concerts) to a group of people I expected only praise from. I was terrified anyway, imagining it would be terrible or even mediocre. I performed anyway, even with my nerves shot, and the warm response was even greater than I expected, and 180 degrees from any imagined negativity. It was so appreciated that I got an email the next day from the director offering me another solo for said concerts. It reminds me that my inner critic is often wrong, exaggerates, and has a wildly negative imagination. Thanks for your continued inspiration.

  • I received this the day before I presented in Spanish, not my main language. It was timed perfectly. I had been focusing on all that I might not get right that I was forgetting about all that I would do well. Just as I had decided to shift perspective your blog arrived in my inbox. How timely 🙂

    I walked into the room feeling grounded and centered because I decided to put the spotlight on what would serve me better. Thank you for sharing your own experience.

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