The inner critic

About twenty years ago I misdialed a phone number.

How could you be so stupid?

I froze, amazed. Was my inner critic actually yelling at me for that? Oh my god it was! Because I tapped 301 rather than 310, I remember this, it was the area code, and all I had to do was hang up and do it again. Like we all do, because this happens and it is no big deal.

And yet, to my critic, this was yet another sign of my incompetence. My critic, it seems had an extremely short fuse.

I realized that if I consciously heard that voice this time, there must have been dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of times when I unconsciously heard that voice, that it felt so comfortable treating me this way that it no longer had to keep its voice down. I figured the voice was like an iceberg, seven-eighths of it below the surface, and that I’d only consciously hear it one-eighth of the time.

I was grateful to hear it, because now I could do something about it.

No, I said, I’m not stupid, I misdialed a number. There’s a difference.

Every time I heard that voice, I responded in that manner. I chipped away at the iceberg. I told myself that I couldn’t do a lot of the unconscious or the subconscious, but the minute that voice surfaced, I had work to do. In this way, I can stop worrying I’m not doing enough (another critical voice, I know) because all I’m going to is chip away at the surface. If I do this enough, the iceberg rises, and less is submerged.

It’s a large iceberg, I know, and chances are good that if I get rid of all of it I’ll discover it calved from an ice shelf that will keep me busy through eternity. That’s fine. I’ve got time, I’ve got a good pair of work gloves, and to keep me company I’ve got an old phone from the desk I sat at, a Chicago area code that needs to be Santa Monica, and it will remind me that I’m here to take care of what I’m aware of.