“Be your own worst critic and your own biggest fan.”
Once, while in sixth grade, I brought home a quiz in which I'd gotten the highest score in the class: a 98%. When I proudly handed the paper to my mother, she asked, “Where's the other two percent?” Mom believed that by training her children to aim for perfection we would be more successful.
Academically, her strategy worked. Unfortunately, it also resulted in neurotic offspring who tend to dwell on our failings. Over the years, I've learned that many people share these nagging feelings of constantly falling short. Most of us have also learned to censor our internalized critic in front of others.
One day, however, after I'd gotten myself into a serious jam that required a friend to help me out, my inner critic could no longer be contained. I let loose an unrelenting stream of self-reprobation, ignoring Shelley's repeated attempts to assure me things would be okay.
Finally, she yelled, “STOP BEATING UP MY FRIEND!”
Taken aback, I stopped. Then the words sank in and I laughed. Her uncharacteristic outburst and choice of words allowed me to see what I otherwise could not. I saw myself not as myself but as Shelley's friend — someone loved by someone else — and realized that I was being harsher on myself than I ever would be on a friend. If a friend were in my situation, I would have genuinely seen their failings as human and focused instead on how to make things better. So why hold someone to an unforgiving standard just because that someone is me?
It sounds corny, but in that moment I finally understood the popular adage that you have to love yourself, so that even when friends aren't there to defend you, you can be your own advocate, friend, and fan.
I will always have that voice telling me, You could have done better. That's okay and maybe even beneficial, so long as it’s not the only voice we hear. Occasionally, when the first voice gets to be too much, I say, "Stop beating up my friend!" And it works.
As we extend loving kindness and compassion towards others in ever-widening circles, may we also extend them to ourselves. Amen.