About a year-and-a-half ago, I was one of twelve students being trained to teach Leadership Communication for the new class of MBAs. As part of training, we were asked to do everything we would be asking our students to do, which included an assignment called “Getting My A.” The assignment is based on a chapter from The Art of Possibility, where each of the author’s students is given an A at the beginning of the semester in order to eliminate any anxiety caused by the fear of being judged/measured and to give students the freedom to take risks necessary for growth. There is only one requirement for earning the A: each student must write a letter from the perspective of her future self at the end of the term, about what she did and accomplished over the course of the term in order to earn an A.
Because I was teaching a communications course in a small-group setting, the assignment was modified to start with “Dear team, I got my A because…” and had to be delivered as a speech. I went home and thought about what to write. I’m a fairly decent public speaker, which is part of the reason I was selected to teach the class. Yet, in order to push the students who were already good public speakers outside of their comfort zones, I wanted to model the kind of growth I expected them to achieve.
I asked myself, what is it that holds me back? What kind of growth would I have to accomplish in order to earn an A?
I thought of something and started writing. As I wrote, I started shaking. The shaking got worse, and gave way to crying. I had to stop writing for a while because I couldn’t see through my tears. It took me 24 hours of stop-and-go-writing-crying to finish my letter. It hit me hard. Maybe because it was like finally turning around to face my deepest darkest demon, and seeing that its face was my own.
I did not end up “earning my A” by the end of that term, because at that time I still struggled with that voice. However, recognizing my inner critic, my should-monster, my non-stop mental chatter, was an important first step. Simply by acknowledging her existence, I found that I was better able to distinguish between her voice and mine. And in every instance I noticed it was her voice I was hearing and not my own, I had a choice: I could listen and engage with what she was saying, or I could acknowledge her presence then let her fade into the background.
The second important step was accepting that I would never be rid of her. I found out from my mom that she had watched me wrestle with my inner critic since I was a child. Trying to silence that voice would be as difficult as trying to separate Siamese twins. So, I still hear her. In fact, I hear her all the time. If you’ve read my last few posts, even you have heard her. She looks like this:
You’re talking about hearing voices? Really? They’re going to think you’re crazy.
When I hear something like that and realize that it’s her, I take a step back, and evaluate what she’s saying.
Why do I want to give credit to what she’s saying? (Because I really do care what people think of me.)
What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t listen to her? (You could think I’m crazy.)
What is the best thing that could happen if I don’t listen to her? (My story resonates with someone else who hears voices and they begin to learn how to keep those voices from making them less than happy.)
Is it more important for me to avoid the bad outcome or pursue the possibility of the good outcome? (Well, the goal of this blog is to share lessons and advice I’ve received in hopes that it can help someone else out there.)
Most of the time, I end up choosing not to listen to her. But sometimes she still sneaks up on me without me noticing. So, every day I practice. Notice her, evaluate what she’s saying, and choose whether to listen. I hope to get to the point where every time she speaks, I can automatically disarm her before she makes me feel unworthy, guilty, or afraid.
That is when I will have finally earned my A.