How to deal with your harshest critic


Who is your harshest critic? If your answer is yourself, then you are in the company of a great many people!

I am struck over and again by the otherwise successful and high-achieving people I meet whose impact and influence is diminished by their self-judgement. Or if not by their self-judgement, at least by that which they semi-consciously imagine others are making of them.

Professional advisers, whether coaches and trainers, or lawyers and consultants, are especially prone to such concerns. As they interact with their clients and see how they respond, the instinctive question many ask themselves is ‘how is this going down?’ On further investigation this question commonly turns out at its heart to be a deeper personal question along the lines of ‘am I good enough?’

Writing in The Art of Possibility, Ben and Roz Zander draw a stark contrast between life lived from this place of self-judgement, with life lived as a contribution. Ben writes “unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, “Is it enough?” and the even more fearful question, “Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?” could both be replaced by the joyful question, “How will I be a contribution today?”

This is a wonderful idea which offers great liberty to those, including myself, who are plagued with self-doubt, fear and criticism. In re-inventing ourselves as a contribution rather than as professionals to be harshly judged, remarkable powers seem to be released. Conflicts may be transformed into rewarding relationships, clients are best served, and our own well-being is most deeply enriched. Writing in the book of Romans, St Paul speaks of something very similar using the wonderful notion of ‘grace’ – a word that has generally fallen out of common use, yet which captures the essence of the liberty that ‘being a contribution’ implies: “you are not under law, but under grace”.  

So whatever the circumstances you’re confronting, and especially when the stakes are high and you’re most anxious about your performance, experiment with these steps from Ben Zander:

1)      Declare yourself to be a contribution

2)      Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why

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