The Limits of Being Hard on Yourself

I’m very hard on myself, and being hard on myself tends to make me operate like I’m a character in a movie called My Life (not sure how this one would fare on Rotten Tomatoes). In my mind, I’m always trying to carry out a “successful” plotline.

It was only recently, after some odd years of trying to succeed in life and entrepreneurial endeavors, that I realized what a waste of time and energy being incredibly hard on one’s self can be. In fact, it can be really inhibiting. 

Before this revelation, every interaction I would have had a succeed/fail measurement. There was a fictional, Hollywood character I was living up to – let’s call her Katharine Hepburn – and everyday things I did I’d compare to what Katharine Hepburn would do. Totally makes sense, right?

Day to day thoughts included…Katharine would’ve kept her cool when she spilled coffee on herself on the subway. No actually, Katharine Hepburn wouldn’t have spilled coffee on herself in the first place. Fail. Or, if Katharine swiped her American Express card, and then was told it’s a chip card, she would’ve acted carefree, not as if the cashier had asked her for her firstborn child. Fail two.

It was worse during business meetings or after-work networking drinks: Being hard on myself made me treat these encounters like the SAT’s. A version of myself would drift above me  – the me I call Judge-Me – and Judge-Me would decide if I was giving right or wrong answers. The thought process was always the same: Did I play it well, or did I not play it well? Did I win or did I lose?

That’s what being hard on one’s self is all about: It’s the idea that no matter what, there is always a right, or wrong answer, and you have to be the judge on which you did that day.

Recently, I was in a really inspiring meeting with all women. There was a legend in the room, and I went in reciting a script in my head of all the things our business had going for it.  As the conversation turned from pleasantries to business, one of the women said to Danielle and I: “So, tell us about yourselves…”

The answer – as always – began with the inception of The New Potato, but as we launched into our passionate speech that Judge-Me would inevitably evaluate my delivery on while I delivered it, the women stopped us.

“No, tell us about you. Where’d you go to college? Did you have pets?”

I was by no means prepared for this. And I worried if I got too comfortable and moved away from the points I had come to this very room to hit home, I’d never get a chance to make them again.

I went against my “better judgment,” let my guard down, relaxed, and started to talk about myself. I was at a loss as to why this information was interesting. Surely this was not the stuff of Katharine Hepburn movies. But as I kept going, the Judge-Me that usually drifted above sort of went away, because she wasn’t that pressured by this conversation. It wasn’t high stakes, there weren’t right or wrong answers on this one. In fact she disappeared for the rest of the meeting…and I can confidently say I was far more creative in that meeting than I am when she sticks around.

I later brought this new attitude to a work dinner during fashion week. Instead of worrying about having to be “On” (the adjective so many of us use to describe our state at post-work networking events) I just thought about how privileged I was to be going to a dinner where I’d be surrounded by incredible women, all doing different and unique things. Though it took some effort (and some champagne) – I left Judge-Me, as well as Katharine Hepburn, at the door.

And finally this week hit, and we un-veiled the big redesign and re-launch of the website on Monday. On Tuesday, like clockwork, around 3 AM I woke up in a sweat: My immediate impulse was to dive right into analyzing the Success or Failure of the re-launch. What had I been thinking just enjoying the great response Monday? Something had to be wrong, and I had to find it. I was fully ready to be a total masochist and kick myself in as many ways as possible if that’s what Judge-Me decided.

But at approximately 4:05 AM, I realized if I let myself go in that direction I’d be defeating the purpose of this entire re-branding that Danielle and I had worked on for a year. I decided to take a different approach than I usually would.

I read through the comments and emails sent our way about the re-launch from our readers. Then I read through them over again. And then again. Our readers’ opinions would be my barometer of success. That’s what this whole thing had been about to begin with, after all. To say the responses overwhelmed me is an understatement.  I went soundly back to sleep for an hour.

When I don’t play judge and jury on myself, I’m a far more creative and innovative person. I think we’re all like that. The result is usually the same whether we are punishing ourselves for it or not. We may as well just be happy if we succeed, and if we fail only suffer from the actual failure, rather than the self-judgment as well.  At least, that’s probably what Katharine Hepburn would’ve done.

6 thoughts on “The Limits of Being Hard on Yourself

  1. This is so incredibly important – thank you for writing about it. The process of getting out of your head and focusing on the moment was something I only recently felt after going through about 30 days of meditating via Headspace the app. Truly a wonderful way to check in with yourself in the morning Amit at the end of the day.

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