Written By Sarah Hodges
Do you ever feel like you’re walking through life with an imaginary audience?
Are you ever wondering what this audience is thinking about you?
What kinds of thoughts do you imagine them thinking about you?
I remember the days when I was obese. I didn’t want to leave my apartment because I didn’t like people looking at me. I didn’t like being stared at as I walked down the street. I actually really wanted to go for long walks, but I would only go after dark so I couldn’t be watched. I actually really wanted to go to the gym, but I couldn’t take the perceived scrutiny.
Even after I lost my weight, the feeling of being watched and judged would return whenever I was feeling insecure. I didn’t like wearing sleeveless shirts because I didn’t like people looking at my arms. I wanted to put on a swimsuit and go swimming, but I didn’t like people looking at my jiggly inner thighs.
Whether I was obese or of normal weight, I felt like I was in a fishbowl and every onlooker was scrutinizing me.
The truth is, the only one who was scrutinizing me… was me.
I was the critical voice. My imagination was the critical onlooker. There was no audience. I was the one judging my current self against my ideal self. I was the one who was criticizing myself relentlessly.
Once I realized that I was the one who was tearing myself apart, I recalled an incident that helped me learn to start talking back:
Before my weight-loss, I managed to make it to the beach for Memorial Day Weekend. I arrived really early and sat within earshot of a family of four. Along the shore in front of us, there was a woman of average weight who was jogging by. Unfortunately, as children sometimes do, one of the young children made a critical comment about the woman and the way she looked.
Without hesitating, the Dad corrected the child, saying, “Yeah, look at that woman! She’s out there exercising and taking care of herself. She’s doing something awesome. Don’t cut someone down for doing something healthy.”
I remember wanting to give that dad a high-five. He was doing it right! Instead, I internalized his words, realizing that I was often the child, ignorantly criticizing myself right out of my efforts to care for myself. However, I could also be the dad and talk back to the critical voice in my head.
From that moment on, I started talking back to the Fourth Wall and my imaginary audience. I started talking back to the critical voice inside. It was empowering, and it kept me from missing out on a lot of amazing experiences in life.
We all have an inner critic, and many of us magnify that critic until it becomes a full-blown audience, scrutinizing our every move. Usually they’re saying that we aren’t enough: thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, accomplished enough. They make us want to run off stage and hide.
But we don’t have to hide. We can throw tomatoes at them, instead! We can tell them we are good enough. Our personal value is not dependent on an external ideal. A person who is thin is not more valuable than a person who isn’t. A person who is rich is not more valuable than a person who is isn’t. Accomplishments, accolades, and even intelligence does not make one person more worthy of happiness and joy than another person.
So talk back to your inner voice. Talk back to the audience. Tell them that you deserve to live your life to the fullest. Tell them that you don’t have to hide from experiences. Tell them that you deserve to give yourself the best care possible.
Then put a smile on your face, and show them what it looks like to be imperfect… and still thrive.
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