Our inner critic can be vicious.

It’s that nagging voice that spends much of its time putting us down, making us feel small, and scared to take steps in life. It can be difficult (if not impossible) to be courageous about life when we listen to – and believe – that voice.

At least, that’s been the case for me. I often heard that mean voice say things like:

~ Don’t quit your great-on-paper job. It will ruin you and your family, and then you’ll forever regret it.

~ Don’t try to change. People in your life only like the version of you you’ve showed them so far. You’ll lose their love and affection.

~ Don’t tell people in your life how you really feel, especially if you feel lost or scared. They’ll recoil in disappointment and disgust – you’re their rock, remember?

~ Don’t engage in artistic endeavors. It’s a waste of time. You’re not any good – if anyone sees what you wrote / drew / painted, they’ll laugh at you.

~ Don’t try to do something new (like initiate Seekers Collective). Who are you to attempt this anyway? There are way more qualified people out there. You’re bound to fail.

If I believed what that voice has told me, I wouldn’t be writing this. I would not have quit my job, attempted change, increasingly shared my true feelings with family and friends, welcomed playfulness and art into my life, nor initiated Seekers Collective.

A year and a half after a wave of change took over my life, I’ve learned that the difference between courage and living in fear lies in daring to ignore that nagging voice.

One of the things that’s greatly helped in this process has been talking to people who were also contemplating change. Last year I participated in several workshops with dozens of people who really wanted change in their life; the workshops were designed to break us open and offer a safe environment to speak about our fears and hopes. After a few weeks, it was clear that – specifics aside – what I’d thought were fears and hopes that I alone had were in fact fears and hopes that we all shared.

Deep inside, each of us is asking similar questions: Am I lovable? Am I enough? Am I deserving of love / abundance / other? Can I change? Should I leap into the unknown?

That realization was hugely helpful for me. Knowing that everyone around me shared my fears, doubts and hopes was normalizing and encouraging. I finally understood (and felt) that:

~ I was not weird after all.

~ I was not more scared than everyone else.

~ I was just…human.

Not everyone has the opportunity, time, and money to engage in such transformational group experiences. And although I truly value the perspective I gained there, it’s possible to find similar insight without going on a retreat.

If that’s your situation, read on.

You can start by paying attention to your fears, doubts and hopes, and then comparing them with other people’s experiences.  

Soon enough you’ll know and feel that your story is everyone’s story, your doubts are everyone’s doubts. They are experiences we all share. This can help you feel less alone in your struggles.

Once you feel that others share your fears, doubts and hopes, give yourself permission to ignore that nagging voice in your head. Notice it, but choose to do the opposite of what it tells you. (After all, if we all have the same fears, why do we approach life so differently? It’s because some of us choose to tune out that internal negativity – the mean voice never stops, but it’s up to us to listen to it or not.)

Start slowly. Like everything else, this too is a practice. Start with small things – take that drumming class you’ve been curious about but felt too ‘foolish’ to try. Then dare a bit more – start that passion project you’ve been musing about. Then stretch yourself further – share your project with friends and/or strangers.

Soon enough you’ll find yourself to be increasingly courageous about your life.

You’ll be building your courage muscle. The courage to leap.

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