You’ve heard the term. You know what it means. You’ve heard the internal voice.
Not like a “hearing voices” or “multiple personalities” thing. But more like a group of individuals judging you. Like your own inner jury.
Well, guess what. It’s totally normal.
In his book, True Purpose, Tim Kelley describes four major critics that make up our inner peanut gallery so that we can identify each of ours and create an inner (non-crazy) dialogue.
1. The Protector
Your Protector is pretty self-explanatory. S/he keeps you safe from danger. More specifically, physical, life-threatening danger. Which has obviously been important for the continued survival of the human race.
But in today’s world, your Protector may go a little overboard.
Perhaps causing a panic attack because you hit send on an email before realizing you typed in the wrong email address.
Or convincing you to stay in your safe, boring, no-growth job rather than take a chance on a new, exciting career.
Your Protector might be overbearing and nearly impossible to ignore. Or maybe yours is a super relaxed hippie who lets you experiment to your heart’s content.
My Protector takes the form of Charlotte York from Sex in the City.
Her wide-eyed stares and pursed lips are enough to keep me from sky diving, but not so ominous that I haven’t avoided doors-off helicopter rides and jumping off the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere (with a tether, of course!).
But Charlotte’s voice used to be much more powerful when it came to academics and career.
“If you want to grow up to be successful, you MUST follow these tried and true steps.”
“If you’re not valedictorian/on Law Review/making six-figures, you’ll basically be destitute and had better marry money.”
Ever since I quit my job, Charlotte has been much less vocal. She still throws in a WASP-y gasp before I’m about to publish a blog post. But I’ve been able to keep her calm by reassuring her I won’t air my dirty laundry or be (overly) TMI on the Interwebs.
2. The Critic
Your Critic is the mouthpiece of your insecurities. Your inner Debbie Downer. Your drive for perfection.
You probably know all too well the harsh voice telling you you’re not good enough, not fit enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough.
That you’re not enough.
When my Critic speaks up, she sounds like the incomparable Emily Gilmore from Gilmore Girls.
Although I didn’t get knocked up in high school and skip college like her rebellious daughter, Lorelai, Emily has sounded equally displeased with a number of my decisions over the years.
“Going to a less prestigious college/law school because it’s more affordable? I’ve never heard of such a thing! Are we really bargain hunting with your future?!”
“So you’re telling me you’re satisfied working for peanuts at Legal Aid when you could be earning more than double at any number of other legal jobs? Not only that, but you chose this job over others?!! The girls at the Club will have a field day with this.”
“Life coaching? What on earth is ‘life coaching’? I suppose you’re going to start wearing Birkenstocks and stop shaving your legs now, too!”
As you can imagine, Emily is rarely quiet. She has a strong opinion on just about everything. And once I learned that about her, I was able to let her finish her thoughts without buying into them.
Fighting with Emily got me nowhere. But now she feels heard, I have the confidence to know she’s rarely correct, and I’m free to go about my business just as Lorelai would.
3. The Image Consultant
Your Image Consultant’s full-time job is to worry about what other people think of you.
Preventing you from saying the wrong thing. Dressing you for success. Cultivating the “right” crowd with which to associate. Creating a persona that makes you the envy of everyone else (and not the other way around).
It sounds like an exhausting job to me. Probably because whenever I am bombarded by this voice, I feel like I’m back in junior high.
Which explains why my Image Consultant is Regina George from Mean Girls.
“You’re not going to put on make-up today? What if a client wants to Skype with you? Or someone talks to you at the toddler playground? I’d die if I had acne like yours...”
“I cannot BELIEVE you just told that random mom at the park about your 15-month old’s inability to sleep through the night. May as well wear a sign that says, ‘Worst Mom Ever’. Would it kill you to at least pretend you’re with the program?”
“You should make sure people know you were a lawyer before you were a life coach. Because ‘life coach’ makes you sound like a fugly crystal-hugging flake.”
Ugh, Regina gets on my nerves far more often than I care to admit. While she only occasionally stops me from doing what I instinctually want to do, she insists on reminding me that what I plan to do or have already done will make me look incompetent, awkward or ge.
She’s a real treat, that Regina.
4. The Skeptic - Abominable Snowman vs. Olaf
Your Skeptic is the distrustful voice that requires evidence before believing anything, thinks everyone is untrustworthy and anything that seems too good to be true is a scam.
(Sounds an awful lot like a lawyer, no?)
You want to go to law school? Fine. Your Skeptic will need to see employment, salary and federal clerkship statistics for recent graduates in general and for all of the schools to which you’ll be applying. If those are convincing, your Skeptic will next move onto obsessing over LSAT prep courses, your college GPA and tuition-to-value ratios.
Thinking about leaving your lawyer gig? Good luck with that one. Your Skeptic is going to need to review your financials from the past five years, create an endless pro/con list and research the most promising alternative careers for JDs all before even entertaining the idea of abandoning a career for which you spent decades preparing.
My original Skeptic was the Abominable Snowman.
When I first felt dissatisfied in my career, I could barely even approach the Abominable Snowman. He was crazy and loud and completely illogical.
What I did hear from him was, “You can’t go back! You’ve come too far! You think I like my job? I scream like an incoherent idiot anyway! Baaaahhhh!”
After a couple more years, my misery exceeded my fear of confronting this ridiculous Skeptic. And so I went to him with statistics on changing careers, anecdotes from former lawyers, books about work/life balance and studies on happiness in the workplace and any other supporting evidence I could find.
I found so much convincing evidence about successful career changes, that today my Skeptic is barely recognizable.
Who knew that with the right kind of evidence, my Abominable Snowman could melt into the sweet, exceedingly optimistic Olaf from Frozen?
“You can make a living as a lawyer life coach? And work less? From home? Sounds fun! Let’s do it!”
“Using your law degree doesn’t necessarily mean working in the legal profession? Ooooooooohhhh, I like the sound of that!”
Although Olaf may seem like a gullible boob, he’s probably my most reasonable jury member on any given day.
Maybe he knows I’ve already got three other ridiculous critics with which to contend. Or maybe he trusts the experiential evidence I’ve gathered since deciding to quit my lawyer job.
In any event, I love having a Skeptic that’s more curious than cynical. Definitely lucked out with Olaf.
Some of us have four very distinct critics. Some of us have critics who overlap and bleed into one another.
(As you can imagine, Emily Gilmore and Regina riff off each other quite nicely while Charlotte nods in approval.)
In identifying and personifying your inner jury members, you can then communicate with them on a rational -- and, might I add, sane -- level. While their comments sometimes are valid and helpful, other times you may want to convince them otherwise.
And you should.
You can negotiate with them. Educate them on your position. Reassure them that they are an important part of the decision-making process.
Because they really are just like jurors. And they’re waiting to hear your side of the story.
This post first appeared on Ms. JD as part of my year-long column as a Writer in Residence, "The JD's Life Coach". Ms. JD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession.