I was in the 2nd grade and my teacher was teaching us about impromptu speaking.  She wrote questions on pieces of paper and put it in a container.  Each one of us took one of the pieces and had a few minutes to prepare our thoughts to speak in front of the class for 30 seconds.

My question read, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As like many little 8 year old girls, in that moment I decided I wanted to be an actress.

The teacher called me to join her at the front of the class.  She asked me to read the question and to share with the class my answer.

“When I grow up” I paused, “I want to be an actress.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I instantly ran back to my desk and pulled my jacket over my face.  I was embarrassed.

Was it that all eyes were on me?  Was it that I didn’t like the attention?  Was it that I felt nervous?  Did I forget what I wanted to say?

I overheard the teacher asking the class to let me be and they would continue with the exercise.

As I hid under my jacket, thoughts began to race through my mind, “What did I just say?  Why would I admit that?  Who do I think I am that *I* could be an actress?  What a stupid thing to say.”

And that was the end of that dream.  As soon as the dream was spoken it was quickly silenced.

By whom?

Who silenced the dream within me?

I did.

The negative self-talk was spoken by me.  No one had ever questioned or made fun of me for wanting to be an actress because I had never told anyone this secret before.

My teacher didn’t shame me.  My classmates didn’t shame me.  My family didn’t shame me.

My mom is and always has been a woman who is gifted with encouragement; believing the very best in her children.  My dad is and always has been highly creative and talented; he understands the heart of an artist.

Not once did anyone in my family berate me; that would be intolerable.  We weren’t even allowed to raise our voices in the house, let alone, speak disrespectfully to one another.

How is it possible that a little 8 year old girl could speak to herself with such indignation?

This inner-critic was mine.  It lived inside me and its power was able to silence me.

We are sometimes our worst enemy.  We shame ourselves with name-calling.  We judge and condemn ourselves far worse than anyone else could.

Why do these condemning thoughts lay dormant? What causes such negative self-talk to rise up when we feel most vulnerable?

My teacher asked me if I would like to try it again.  I said yes.  This time, I changed my narrative and decided being an actress wasn’t what I wanted to say.

As quickly as the dream dawned a light, the dream disappeared into a locked vault not to be mentioned again.

Here’s the uncanny part:  I don’t remember what I said the second time. I don’t remember what I chose to replace the dream with.

Which makes sense because I was no longer being authentic.  I created a false narrative surrounding my identity.  My sincerity was replaced with what I thought I should say.

30 years later, I tried out for a part in a local community theater company.  I got the part and we performed ten shows.  A great and fun experience!

Did I do it to redeem the little eight year old Karen?

Yes.  Yes, I did.

When the play was over, I reported back to her, “Little Karen, you did it.  You were on stage as an actress.  I’m so happy to share this news with you.  No more hiding under your jacket, my little person.”

When the performance was over, my heart was content.  It was all I needed.  I found closure.

Although that day in 2nd grade embarrassed eight year old Karen, she truly planted the first seed.  She was the beginning of a journey that would take me to where I am today.

This eight year old Karen was a catalyst that launched me into my career.  She was the first to speak forth my potential.  She was the launching pad of my future; the first clue in finding my purpose.

Here’s my takeaway :

1.  You must not tolerate the self-critic because it’s the silencer of your heart.
2. Find the courage to speak out the self-criticism that lives inside you.
3. The inner-critic perpetuates doubt.
4. The inner-critic is your foe and unless it provides an empowering solution to overcome the criticism, it has no use.
5.  Speak out loud what you’re hearing inside you.  Expose it immediately.
6.  Measure your inner-critic with the voice of your beloved community.  Do their insights match your internal thoughts?
7.  If their wisdom does not complement your criticism, replace the criticism immediately with their comforting words.
8.  Self-criticism promotes self-embarrassment.  I.e.  If I speak my heart, I will look a fool, therefore, I will say nothing.
9.  Choose commending, not condemning, self-talk.

Imagine if I would have share with Mrs. Kennedy what I was thinking?  I know, without a doubt, she would have empowered me and given me the opportunity to speak confidently about my little dream.

Self-criticism will never bear you good will.  Its contribution is solely to judge and silence you.  The voice of your trusted peers carries greater power than the self-critic that lays in hiding.  Choose where you draw your wisdom.


ps.  On a side note – I’m specifically focusing on the definition of criticism as “the expression of disapproval.”  Critical thinking can be very useful and productive in the workplace.  (ie. In an article from Balanced Careers, Dawn Rosenberg McKay says, “The ability to think logically about a problem in order to solve it is a valuable soft skill. Employers want to have employees who can solve problems quickly, but more importantly, they want ones who can solve them effectively.”)   What I am referring to is the self-critic that is only interested in tearing you down.

Photo by: Unsplash | @tinaflour