Career Advice

I’m a Career Expert, and These 5 Common Work Situations Make My Inner Critic Pop Up

Photo: Getty Images/Ekaterina Goncharova
I consider myself to be an empathetic, encouraging, kind, and compassionate person. But, that's in regards to how I interact with other people. If we're talking about my relationship with myself? Let’s just say I can put Regina George to shame. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at quieting down my Mean Girls-esque inner critic, but every now and then, she pipes up again. Loudly. Specifically, my inner critic tends to perk up with regard to certain work scenarios.

Though I've developed a deeper compassion for myself over the years, there are certainly still instances when Regina rears her head (inside my head) with self-critical thoughts. In fact, it’s pretty predictable, since I've identified the common work situations where my inner critic pop up. While that’s frustrating, I’m prepared now with tools for how to work through it—and I'm happy to share them.

I've learned that the best way to “deal with” my inner critic at work is to develop a relationship with it.

I've learned that the best way to “deal with” my inner critic at work has been to develop a relationship with it. Until you seek to understand where and why she originated (and what she needs from you), she’ll continue to appear. Below, outline the common triggers of my inner critic at work, and how I quiet it with compassion and curiosity.

5 situations at work that engage inner critic, and what I do to quiet it

1. Making a mistake

Though we all know, logically, that as human beings, we're prone to mess up, doing it simply doesn't feel good in the moment. And if you hold yourself to a sometimes unreasonably high standard, like I do, that can be even harder to deal with.

How I quiet my inner critic: First, I consider whether I really did “mess up,” and if so, to what degree. Consider whether you were set up for success in the first place, because often our stumbles are because things were out of our control.

That's not to say that there's no value in taking mistakes as a learning opportunity and also making sure to take responsibility for your actions. But, there's not much value in punishing yourself for something you now can't change. With that in mind, I find it helpful to repeat: “I did the best I could with the information, resources, and experiences I had at the time.”

2. Getting critical feedback

I really struggle with this because I’ve historically equated my identity and worth with my achievements. Plus, I’m a people-pleaser. So, when I receive critical feedback, my gut reaction is often to hear that I have failed in some way rather than to take the feedback as a learning and note room for improvement.

How I quiet my inner critic: Now, the first thing I do when I receive critical feedback is to breathe. This helps me to make sure my next step is to respond rather than simply react, and that involves filtering through what the person said to tease meaning from their message. Then, orient yourself towards action regarding the constructive part of the feedback.

Later, when you’re in a less heightened state, examine the core belief you have about yourself that this piece of feedback tapped into. This experience is a clue that you have more work to do on what are probably some outdated mindsets you have for yourself.

3. Falling into old habits that don't serve you

Sometimes you're aware of habits that don't serve you, and you've made personal progress to abandon them…until you fall into them again. For instance, though I've made progress to stop my procrastinating habit, every now and then, I still find myself waiting until the last possible moment to finish something. When this happens, it's frustrating, confusing, and discouraging, and can awaken your inner critic.

How I quiet my inner critic: In meditation, catching your mind start to wander often leads folks start to get frustrated with themselves and see it as a sign of being “bad” at meditating. However, the opposite is actually what's true.

Starting anew is what builds the muscle of awareness. It’s an opportunity to respond differently on the next go-around, whether that's in regards to meditation or dropping an old habit. So instead of getting discouraged, embrace it as an opportunity to dig even deeper, elevating you to a greater level of self-understanding and compassion.

4. Comparing myself to others

Are you jealous of a colleague who seems to be accomplishing everything and being a general success? Maybe noticing these wins highlights your perceived shortcomings to yourself. When this happens, ask yourself whether your envy is rooted in reality or dots you're connecting in your head.

How I quiet my inner critic: Remember, there’s always a downside or a sacrifice to whatever filtered version of others you’re seeing online. It could be not spending a lot of time with their family, for example, in the case of someone who might have all the work wins.

If this mindfulness exercise doesn't help you quiet your inner critic and keep comparisons in check, make things easier for yourself by muting or unfollowing people on social media. I also like to remember this quote by venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton: “Be yourself so the people looking for you can find you.” There's no use wishing you were someone else when there are people out there wishing they were you.

5. Not having a productive day or things taking me longer than I expected

Before you let your inner critic get the best of you here, first consider whether you’ve set yourself up for success. For example, are you managing your time correctly? Clearing out distractions? Focusing on priorities? This includes examining when your energy peaks and dips, and aligning your work tasks accordingly.

How I quiet my inner critic: I like to approach my work like a scientist. I have a certain hypothesis of how long something might take and the best way to approach it, but after I’m done, I review to see if, where, and how I can optimize. The point being, I’m approaching my days with a growth mindset and accept the trial and error that comes with experimenting and optimizing.

Claire Wasserman is the author and founder of Ladies Get Paid, an educational platform, global community, and book that helps women make more and live better. Join her virtual bootcamp, Get Into Your Life (October 26–November 30), to help you harness your mental, emotional, and financial potential so you get on the path to prosperity. 

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