My inner critic is constantly busy. Every time I think I’m making progress on quieting his harsh criticism, he pops up again — ready to tell me that my work is no good and that I’m not good enough.
This isn’t anything new. I’ve talked about it before. But since my father died four months ago, I’ve had moments when I thought maybe that voice had died with him. For now, though, the voice is still there, at least part of the time.
This afternoon, I received a really nice note on Instagram from someone who I don’t know. This person posts really high-quality shots of nature and recently started following one of my accounts.
“Hello!” this fellow photographer wrote. “I just wanted to say your photos are so amazing, especially the recent ones! You’ve become my favorite account to follow. Keep up the fantastic work. All the best.”
A sane and reasonable person would feel happy with such praise, but my harsh inner critic seemed to hear only four words: “…especially the recent ones.” So that must mean the things that aren’t recent must be terrible. Why else would he have felt the need to qualify his praise? Right? Something in me felt crushed.
My rational brain knows better. Some part of me knows there was no such criticism intended. But the inner critic doesn’t care what makes sense. The inner critic doesn’t care about anything other than robbing me of the joy which I could otherwise take from my work.
I shot the photo above late this afternoon. I was sitting at a traffic light and suddenly noticed the sun behind this foliage created beautiful colors and highlights. I grabbed my camera from the seat beside me and fired off five quick shots before the light could turn green.
I was happy with the picture. It’s at times like this — when I’ve done some minor thing which few people are going to notice, but which I believe is good — when I feel best about my work. They’re moments in which I realize I do have talent and that I’m getting better and better as I work on the various parts of my craft.
It seems as though those are the moments when the inner critic is most likely to strike. I had posted this picture to Facebook and Instagram. It was a few minutes after that when I got the gracious note from the other photographer.
And that’s when the inner critic struck.
I’ve told you before where this inner critic comes from. My father used to harshly criticize me, especially when I did things for which I received praise. I constantly wanted to impress people — because something in me has always been starved for praise and attention — but when I received that praise, I wanted my father to be proud of me. And that’s always when he found reasons to criticize me and tell me why what I had done wasn’t good enough.
“If you had done this the way I told you, it would have been even better,” was a constant theme of his criticism, even when what I had done had surpassed the work of everyone else around me. He couldn’t just let me bask in the joy of praise.
And the inner critic still tries to play his role, even after he’s dead.
It’s humiliating to admit to you how much I still need your praise. I’m scared my work isn’t good enough. I’m scared other people aren’t going to like it. I’m scared I’ll never be good enough to be the big commercial success I want to be.
I wish I didn’t need that affirmation. I wish my own rational approval was good enough for me. But as long as the inner critic is still there, I’m afraid I’ll still need you to help me overcome that — to let me know I’m doing good work.
Yes, I’m too sensitive about my work. I know that. Even praise can be turned around and made to seem bad. I have to ask for your patience. It’s one of my faults. I’m aware of it, but I haven’t been able to get past this one — so please be patient with my fears.
Note: If you’d like to follow my Instagram accounts, you can find one which focuses mostly on sunsets and random nature shots here and another which focuses on the cats and dog in my life here. I can only imagine how many photos I’ll take one day when I have children whose lives I can document. The small inset photo above on the right is Thomas watching birds outside the house Sunday afternoon. The picture below is Lucy’s Saturday afternoon portrait in the back yard.