I’ve got some Big plans for the year ahead. And with that in mind, I’ve been dipping in and out of the book “Playing Big” by Tara Mohr for inspiration here and there. It’s been sitting on my desk as a reminder of my intention.
On the back cover, the blurb reads:
When women play big, we make things happen.
(Yep, sounds good. There’s a lot of complex problems to solve in this world of ours, so making things happen sounds a plan we need to get behind. Are you in?)
Tara’s book opens with a chapter about our “Inner Critic.” Because for most women (or possibly just humans generally) the biggest obstacle to achieving the things we dream of is Ourselves. Studies suggest we spend hundreds of hours each year self-criticising. Think how that time could be better spent on making big things happen.
It’s the voice in our head which tells us we can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t/haven’t/won’t/never will etc etc.
Not good enough, not clever enough, nor pretty enough, or funny enough, or qualified enough, or ready enough, nor likeable enough nor expert enough nor rich enough or successful enough nor loud enough.
The curse of not-enoughness.
The voice of self-doubt is the voice of playing small.
In recent years I came to realise that my inner critic was a nasty bitch. A coach told me I had the meanest inner critic of anyone she’d ever worked with. [Not an accolade I was proud to win.]
This inner critic voice can be so dangerous because we come to simply live with it, accept it, welcome it in, take it as gospel. It’s starts to run on an automatic loop, telling us lies and questioning us, all day long. We can become used to its ramblings and treat it as a friend.
It’s only when we start to examine it that we realise that it’s not the kind of friend we necessarily want to hang out with.
For any of us wanting to play bigger, be bigger, create bigger and have bigger impact, at some point we have to open up a curious dialogue with that little voice inside our head.
For years she has walked alongside you, evaluated you, criticised you, warned you off, told you that you didn’t measure up, mocked you, unhelpfully compared you to others and keen to chip in with words of her special wisdom at the most critical of times.
For years she has kept you playing small. As Marianne Williamson would say:
your playing small does not serve the world
Gladys and Bertha
My friend Jo Rawbone (founder of Flourishing Introverts) has a name for her inner critic. She calls her Gladys.
Ha, it always makes me laugh. So I think we should all have friends for our inner critic, names which make us smile wryly when we notice her chit chatting away. Naming her takes away some of her power, reduces her to a manageable force. I took a while mulling over what to christen mine. I decided on Bertha, but didn’t like that she could be “Big Bertha”. I wanted her to be little, not big. Then I realised that she thinks she is so big and important, but the irony is that I am way more bigger and more important than her. Let her believe in her own self-importance – bless poor little Bertha – because I know the truth. She’s the school bully & I feel sorry for her.
First things first, I’ve been learning how to listen out for her. I knew I couldn’t and can’t play big without getting her on side and in line, so I’m taming her to play nice.
And I can tell you, this is hard work. It’s the stuff of warriors. Battling with yourself, reprogramming your thoughts, exposing your toxic fears to the light. Big shout out to the beautiful Susan-Jane Rome, mindset coach extraordinaire, who has sat between me and little Bertha, mediating the discussions & lovingly advocating for the real Rachel to please stand up.
You might be reading this, thinking “yeah yeah, heard all this before. Inner critic blah de blah”.
But if that’s the case then tell me – what are you actually doing (or planning to do) about it?
For years I knew all about the existence of my inner critic but I didn’t do very much at all to deal with her. I continued to let her play Radio Bollocks in my head, loud and clear, moving me like a puppet away whenever I dared to saunter closer to daring greatly with things which lit me up.
Until I reached a point where the pain of not dealing with her, was greater than the pain of living with her. [Which is a story for another day.]
So honestly, unless you’re happy to play your life small (which is fine, by the way, many people do and are very happy to…it’s only ever a problem if you WANT to play bigger) at some point you are going to have to dig in and do the work with her.
Back Seat Driver
Taking control of the direction of travel, with your inner critic tamed and onboard (albeit reluctantly), is where we Big Player wannabes need to be.
On the Playing Big journey, your inner critic can either be your best friend and your greatest cheerleader, or it can be your sworn enemy and the cause of a slow, painful crawl in the opposite direction of your hopes and dream. It can help you create your best relationships and your best self, or it can thwart your attempts at connection and block you from achieving your potential.
In her book “Big Magic” Elizabeth Gilbert talks about befriending our fear, and then asking her politely to sit in the back seat of the car.
She advises that we say to her:
You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, you’re not allowed to suggest detours, you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all, my dear & old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
The Leading Lady
Your inner critic has to come along for the ride – she isn’t ever going to go away. Your Gladys-Bertha is going to be always there, lurking in the corner. She can help you to stay humble and act with humility, to stay grounded. She has a part to play, it’s just not the leading role.
That role is reserved for your inner child, because she ALWAYS knows what your heart intended you to do. Your grown-up You just stopped listening to her. She’s very much still there, laughing away and waiting to be released back into the playground of your life.
So Playing Big is about acting in spite of the self-doubt.
The ability to say “thank you for that thought, Bertha, I know you’re trying to help and keep me safe. But I choose to crack on with this anyway because you know, it’s important, and it’s way bigger than me, or you. So move aside – there’s a good girl.”
And my best advice on this point?
Find some good, supportive friends out in the real world. So they help you to pop your Gladys in the back seat and cheer you on to big-ness. In together-ness.
A community, an inner circle, a pack. We’re pack animals. We need to work together. (That’s why my Playing Big this year involves some new business partners, creating groups, communities, running events and retreats and programmes).
Just ask my little puppy Bonnie about being in the pack. She spends her whole day following me round with her puppy-dog eyes. When I leave the room she whimpers and lies next to the door, throwing herself on me when I return.
It makes me smile and I think of the Charles Yu quote:
If I was just half the person my dog thinks I am, I’d be twice the human I am.
But hey. What if I am that person already? What if putting my little Lucifer in the back seat means I’m instantly ready to play big? What if my inner critic has been the only one keeping me down, telling me I’m not loveable, not enough, not able, not capable, not destined for big-ness.
Who shall we believe?
Little Bertha or the beautiful Bonnie?
Good news, guys.
We get to decide.
We get to choose.
We get to Play Big.
Over to you,