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 anxious about what she’d think of the talk. I started feeling unprepared, less than, not my usual 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 remained 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 judgments, her criticism, even her scoffing at some of what I had said. And she was not in the room. All that imagining was merely that: imagining.
I immediately thought: Ok life, I get the joke.
The joke–or the lesson–was that this was such an excellent metaphor for what I often do. Because of a 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 concerns make it out to be.
So maybe it’s 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 become diminished because, like me, you 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, not in the room? And then do that.