Shhh! Quiet Your Inner Critic

Last year at this time I wrote a post titled, A Sensational Summer Ending. I used the game of baseball as an analogy for overcoming adversity, and since it’s that time of year, I’d like to do it again. I was reminded of the parallels when I watched the movie Moneyball last week and discovered that Oakland won their division yet again. If you’ve never seen the movie, you should. It’s really good! Based on a true story, the A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, builds a winning team despite a meager budget, the loss of his three most prominent (and expensive) players, and the constant barrage of criticism from just about everyone except his new Assistant GM, a Yale Economics graduate, whom Billy recruits to prove a theory that will revolutionize the game.

At a crucial juncture in the story, the naysayers’ voices rise to a soaring crescendo as the A’s fall to last place. Beane’s confidence wanes, his conviction withers, not only because of what’s happening at present, but more importantly, because of what happened in his past. Maybe they’re right? What the hell am I doing? I’m striking out now like I struck out then. Louder and deeper, the voices weaken his resolve, You can’t win, you won’t win, it’s impossible to win in the majors, you failure! You never made it as a player, so what makes you think you’ll win as GM?

NO! he screams under his breath as he spins his car around. I watch the movie entranced. Something inside the character has shifted. The critical voice that’s weighed on his psyche is no longer in play.

Like most of us, Billy has an Inner Critic, a voice within that tells us we’re not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough–or whatever enough. It dwells on our failures and reminds us of our mistakes. It develops early in life and grows ever stronger as we absorb the judgments of people around us and the expectations of the society in which we live.

In the film, Billy recalls his failures as a rookie while the A’s struggle to dig out of last place. The scouts said he was destined for greatness, but to his dismay, he never made it big. The critics hammered away then as they hammer away now. It feels all too familiar to Billy, the past playing out in the present. As I watch, I imagine his inner dialogue, I chose wrongly in my youth. Have I made a grave error again? Are the critics right? Am I doomed for failure?  In addition to Billy’s thoughts, I imagine his feelings–worry, anxiety, desperation, fear. Negative thoughts fuel negative feelings, that is, until Billy confronts his fear of failure and faces his demons head on.

In an instant, Billy changes. Prior to that time, he kept his distance from his players. It’s easier that way, he coaches his Yalie, if you ever have to cut them. It’s apparent that his rationale has been devised for self-protection; the haunting hurt of being cut is a hurt he doesn’t want to relive. So he buries it behind a wall that is now derailing his efforts. AHA! Insight strikes. It all becomes clear. He realizes that he can’t win with just a theory; he’s got to stop distancing himself and get closer to his players. He has to teach them what he’s learning, encourage them to play to their strengths, and most importantly,  show them that he believes in more than a theory, he believes wholeheartedly in each of them, no matter how they’ve been “valued” by the league.

No longer listening to the critics, inner or outer, the A’s dramatically change course. I’m on the edge of my seat, albeit in my living room. I know it’s just a movie, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for feel good stories, especially when people beat the odds and accomplish great things. The A’s did just that. They beat the record for most consecutive wins in the American League—20 in a row–and prove the critics wrong.

This week Billy’s winning again. His team is unexpectedly in the playoffs as American League West champs. Interestingly, he’s also in the press for a different reason. A San Francisco columnist is suggesting Beane run for mayor of Oakland given the downtrodden state of that city by the bay.  Nice that Billy’s being recognized for his talents, don’t you think? Nicer still if everyone, especially the undervalued, could receive much more of the same.

We all deserve encouragement. We all deserve to win. To learn how you can beat the odds by quieting your inner critic, read an excerpt from the book, Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset or call me to schedule a Voice Dialogue session. It’s an amazing process that will accelerate your growth.

P.S. This Atlanta girl who grew up in Pittsburgh hopes to see one of those two teams play the A’s in the World Series. Go Billy!!!

Step to the Right?

If you’ve never heard of Jill Bolte Taylor, let me introduce you to her. If you’ve read her book, My Stroke of Insight, or listened to her TEDTalk, you already know what an incredible gift she is to the world. A stroke victim, she found herself inside her brain as the boundaries of her body disintegrated into space. Wow! she writes. This is so cool! How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brains from the inside out?”

I write this post, not only to honor Jill Bolte Taylor, but to honor every man and woman who has ever suffered a stroke, including my dear friend, Lya Sorano. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it’s like to experience this trauma–but man! Jill Bolte Taylor does a superb job of helping us know. If you’ll excuse me now, I need to stop writing so you can start listening. Please listen to Jill. Her words are some of the most inspirational I’ve ever heard.

Over the next few months I’ll share more about the brain, most especially, the power we all possess to “step to the right” of our left hemisphere and experience what Jill did during her stroke–a deep inner-peace—where stress disappeared and her spirit soared. No matter our affliction, whether physical or psychological, the power of the right brain can help us heal, change, and grow.

If you’d like to learn more and receive notification of future posts, then enter your email in the upper right and click “Follow.” I’d appreciate the opportunity to stay connected.

A Sensational Summer Ending

Why in the hell did we leave the game at the top of the 9th?  Damn it!  I shook my head in disbelief, staring at the TV as Chipper Jones knocked one out of the park to win it, 8-7. What a sensational ending. And we missed it!  I whined to my friend. Despite being down 5-0, then 7-2, the Braves never gave up. They weathered some bad breaks, but in the end, they overcame a miserable start.

I could definitely relate. My summer started out miserably. I committed an error in May, taking a part time job at a psychiatric hospital for fear I couldn’t pay my bills. The unit was located in a dreary basement. No windows. Drab walls. Florescent lighting. Ugh! How in the hell could patients heal in this god-awful place. Working there literally made me sick. I had to quit. I tendered my resignation before I even finished training. Score a run for me.

In an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, I decided to use my paycheck to fund a vacation to Tybee Island in June. I imagined a glorious time on a sun-drenched beach, nurturing myself in a charming historic hotel. But I struck out in early innings. It rained the whole time. My cold got worse. Damn it!  There’s got to be brighter days ahead, I told myself. After all, it is summer! The sun IS supposed to shine.

Quit whining, a voice within me uttered. Vacation isn’t over. This was true. I still had two days left, so I decided to make the best of things and head down the coast to visit a beautiful barrier island. Maybe the sun will be shining there?  And, it was. Fantastic! I cheered. I felt like I hit a triple when I discovered a dockside restaurant with a cool vibe, fresh seafood, and an excellent band. I was happy again.

As I gathered my things to head toward the pier, I realized that my cell phone was missing. What the f***!  I desperately retraced my steps, searching frantically to find it, but despite my best efforts, I failed. Stranded on base, miserable again, I played the part well, the pitiful one, all weepy—eyed , convincing myself that the best thing to do was to call it quits, head back up the coast, and check into a dive motel  before driving home in the morning.

Dive motel or divine night on the docks? my wise voice whispered. Vacation isn’t over! What good will it do to wallow in self-pity? It’s only a phone, and you wanted a new phone anyway.  

In that moment, something shifted inside of me. Self-pity climbed into the back seat to make room for a woman who had the confidence to hit it out of the park. Quit and go home. No way! I thought. The game wasn’t over. Right then and there, in a parking lot on Jekyll Island, my sensational summer began. I got out of my car and strutted toward the pier. I ordered a great meal, danced to soul-satisfying music, and laughed and joked with wonderful new friends. Phone, what phone? Who needs a phone when you’re on vacation?

After filling up on life that night, I drove back up the coast, the sun melting into the horizon, magenta and turquoise sky. A spectacular ending to what started out as a miserable day. I checked into a “nice” motel, dialed up wireless, and chuckled to myself after discovering an email from my emergency contact friend. It read…”Phone found. At entry gate at Jekyll.”  Too late, I smiled a wicked smile. The game was over. I won.

My summer just kept getting better. July was fantastic. I was invited to stay with friends in Montana, all expenses paid. We hiked Glacier National Park, spied a grizzly near the path, mountain goat and long horn sheep at the continental divide. The 4th of July was stellar! Cheered on my 70-year old, “never-say-quit” friend as she finished the Peachtree Road Race; ate one of the best burgers ever at an iconic Atlanta pub before concluding the day with a grand fireworks display.  Mid-month I started dating again—and oh boy! I forgot how much fun it is to kiss under a blanket of stars on a sultry summer night.

Summer’s come and gone, baseball season nearly over. But wait. The Boys of Summer know that a sensational ending is NOT out of reach. The playoffs are right around the corner. To win in the game of baseball, just like in life, you’ve got to keep moving ahead in the face of adversity. And you’ve got to stick around ‘till the very end. This, I will never forget.

I turned to my friend after gawking at the TV, “We will never again leave a baseball game before the final out. Never ever again!”

Forget Work, Regret Less

This past Sunday I decided to work on my blog post for this week. A bit ironic, since I was continuing the series “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” and the second regret identified by a former palliative care worker was, “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” Oh my, do I ever know this one!

I finally stopped surfing the web at 11:00 p.m. Thankfully, a gem appeared on my screen not long after my quest began. “Voila! No need to hunt and peck for updated research,” I thought. I found the perfect article in the day’s Washington Times –“A Nation Overworked: Abandoning Happiness & Health for Paychecks.” Bingo!

Now you’ve got me trapped. Since I put in extra hours on Sunday, I’d say it’s time to call it a day. No need for me to put my spin on this well written article. After all, I need to be a role model and put my happiness and health first. Time to take a walk.

Come on! It’s quitting time;)

Dying to Live

What if you found out today that you only had a few years to live? I don’t mean to be morbid, and I’m definitely not writing to say goodbye. I’m good, really. I’m very healthy. But what if? Do you ever stop to ask yourself this important question? I do.

More importantly, I have clients who have good reason to ask. They’ve survived cancer, heart disease, or substance related disorders, and now more than ever, they’re determined to live life fully and die with little or no regrets.

I recently read an article titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.” The author, Bronnie Ware, worked in palliative care for many years. She discovered five common themes expressed by her patients—things they would do differently if they had the chance to turn back time.

Over the course of the next five weeks, I’ll share her patients’ top five regrets and invite you to reconsider some of your life choices. I’ll incorporate passages from a few of my favorite books that may inspire you to make a change before it’s too late. Here goes.

Regret #1: I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected me to live.  

Why is it that we can’t let go of others’ expectations? What drives us away from our dreams and keeps us stuck in unsatisfying jobs, unhealthy relationships, unfulfilling past times, or behavioral ruts? One of my favorite authors, Dawna Markova, hits the nail on the head in her book, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life. She writes…

To explore what it would mean to live fully, sensually alive and passionately on purpose, I have to drop my preconceived ideas of who and what I am. It is as if the salt of years is running free from me. Like so many of us, my head has been stuffed full of knowledge, but something in me is still starving. So here, I seek to empty it of the stories, explanations, and interpretations I am clutching in the fist of my mind. When did it get so tightly closed that it became numb? And what was it holding onto anyway? I want it free. I want my heart and soul free. Free of and free from. Free of struggle, free from doubt in the canyons of my bones, free from running from the truth of knowing that something has been missing.

It’s hard to follow such a beautifully written passage, so let me build on a phrase that is the essence of what I help people do as a psychotherapist and life coach. I seek to empty the stories, explanations, and interpretations I am clutching in the fist of my mind.  So many of us cling to the stories handed down by our families. We adopt definitions of societal success, thinking we should live up to these standards, instead of authoring our own. We cling to professional titles; we clutch onto secure, yet unsatisfying relationships. We close our mind and resist our heart’s desire. We ignore a haunting voice inside that whispers, something’s just not right.

It takes a great deal of courage to respond to that voice. It takes even more courage to say, It’s time to change my life.  If familiar old stories continue to hold you hostage, simply ask yourself the question I started with today, What if I only had a few years to live?

See where it takes you. Give this voice a chance. Maybe it will free your mind from preconceived ideas of who and what you should be.

Beginning with Ease

“And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T.S. Eliot I recently made an end. I quit my job at a government-run treatment center. I was drowning in a sea of red tape, overwhelmed by minutia that held me hostage from my clients. The stress was killing me. Headaches, stomach aches, emotional exhaustion. I had to make a choice. I could go on and on with the pain, or I could set myself free.

Could I make it financially without this job? I fretted. How could I pay my bills with only one part-time  job? I’d been making ends meet, working two jobs–the county job and a contractual position at a private treatment center. I loved working as a private contractor, as my focus was on counseling, not administration. I wondered if my boss would give me more hours so I could turn in my notice at the county.  It’d be great if she did, for then I’d be able to pursue my dream of setting up private practice, a vision I’d been contemplating for a year.

Are you sure you’re ready to commit to your vision? my “doubting self” dared. I’d been waiting patiently for a sign to move me forward in my desired direction. I knew I couldn’t begin without some financial security. I needed more income so I wouldn’t feel pressured to make something happen before it was time. I needed to act on my desire, asking for more hours, simple as that. If the timing was right, my dream would unfold easily, like a new bloom on a Morning Glory vine. If it wasn’t, another lesson would appear to prepare the ground for a new beginning.

Ok, I’ll commit. I’ll ask for my needs to be met. Interestingly, I didn’t even need to ask, for on the day I had planned to approach my boss, she instead approached me.“Can we increase your hours, Phyllis? We could really use your help.” Definitely, I laughed, letting her in on my little secret. A feeling of gratitude washed over me as I remembered a quote by W.H. Murray that I had cited in my April post…

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”

It was definitely time. I had made my beginning when I had made my ending. Apparently, the unfolding would be easier than I thought. Within a few days, another sign appeared. I was perusing an online resource for professional counselors when an ad caught my attention: Furnished lakeside office available for sublet one or two days a week. I scrolled down the page to discover a recognizable name, a lovely woman I had met through a mutual friend after deciding to return to graduate school. Ironically, her office was in the exact place I had imagined my office, a beautiful, central location in Atlanta where I had personally received the gift of therapy.

Looking back on my blog posts, I now realize that I’ve “eased into” this beginning. There’s been no need to exert a great amount of effort. Effort, according to Webster’s, is defined as “something produced by exertion or trying,” a word that stems from the root word “esforcier,” which means to force. Ease, on the other hand, is defined as “freedom from labor or difficulty.”

Now I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t experienced any “labor pains” in my process. (If you haven’t read my Dec 22 blog post, you might want to check it out. I WAS in pain.) Change of any magnitude requires that we endure uncomfortable feelings and live with the tension between our current reality and desired future state. That said, I now know that the creative process does unfold gracefully when we get clear about what we truly want, begin with an end, and take committed action–with ease.