A few months ago, I wrote a piece that was truly resonating with my audience. I was moved and beyond grateful for every personal reply I received from my newsletter and each comment from second and third degree connections on LinkedIn. And yet all of this emotion washed over me while I was staring at a blank screen on one of my scheduled mornings to write.
I was in my favorite writing coffee shop with a great table and the perfect amount of coffee in my cup—but I fought every word my brain presented before my fingers had a chance to type them. I wouldn’t let them appear on that pristine page. They were both uninspired and grotesque. Since the time I’ve begun regularly writing, my process has been to push through. Even if I end up with one good paragraph that can later be salvaged, even if I check my email (including my promotions folder) a hundred times for a break from the struggle, I keep going. I writhe through and it’s not pretty.
During this battle, as I checked email after email with kind words about my writing, my panic grew.
They think I know what I’m talking about. Wait until they see this one.
I’ll never be able to write anything as good as that last piece.
They’ll unsubscribe, un-follow, un-like, un-everything.
After taking some deep breaths and watching a few videos of puppies, I rescued my self-esteem and creativity from the clutches of my inner critic and thought, "maybe this next blog post will suck, but the one after that could be my best yet."
I became acutely aware that my success was feeding my inner critic Sea Salt Caramel Talenti on a silver spoon—and that broke me out of my moment of paralysis. I quickly downgraded my experience by realizing the level of pressure best-selling authors must feel when writing their next book. This was simply a blog post—why was it affecting me like this?
I now recognize that when you succeed at something you love and want to continue, it raises the stakes and adds a level of pressure you didn’t see coming. Sadly, we often sabotage that success by doing things like listening to our inner critic voice when it tells us that we’re shit writers or leaders or [insert something you desperately want to be]. In Gay Hendricks powerful book, The Big Leap, he calls it, "The Upper Limit Problem."
I’m learning to manage my own Upper Limit Problem, by doing a few key things:
1. Remove perfectionism:
I give myself the room for some posts to be winners and some to be well, not as winning. It’s like when you’re training for a 10K or half marathon. Sometimes you’re going to go out for a run that feels terrible. I had a trainer once call it a "junk run." Even if it felt bad in the moment, I was still proud I finished it and stuck with it.
2. Acknowledge the fear:
I spend some time with my fear. I ask myself, "Why is it scary when people appreciate my writing? What’s the worst thing that could happen? What am I afraid to become?" And I see what answers I find.
3. Switch gears:
For the next piece I write after a success, I choose a topic that is completely different. If the success was in a personal, vulnerable piece, I write something that is more tactical. By choosing something that is completely out of the realm of my latest success, I can provide myself with a clear canvas to start anew.
As I continue to practice this approach and move through my fears, I’m also finding relief and renewed creativity by focusing on the work and not the response. Whether it’s positive or negative, the response gives me some data about how my work is resonating in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything about me personally. I practice distancing myself from both the criticism and the praise, so I can give space to the questions that drive my curiosity, as well as the challenges I see come up in my work with clients.
I’m not going to lie, it feels great to be praised for something I’ve always loved to do, but at the end of the day—that’s not what’s going to fulfill my mission of getting more women into positions of power. It’s the work, the consistency and the showing up in the good and bad moments that will fuel my resolve and progress toward that end.