Your Toughest Critic is Often Yourself

My girlfriend Cassie had a life reboot of her own this year: She began a career as a music teacher. She has therefore experienced a lot of “firsts” ever since she started. Her first curriculum, her first classroom, her first student body.

Last night, she conducted her first 8th Grade Holiday Choir Concert.

Cassie and I live together. Therefore, I’ve seen the amount of preparation that was required to put this 1-hour concert together. Throughout the last few months, Cassie had to:

  • Select and purchase songs.
  • Teach the songs to her choir students.
  • Incorporate the use of instruments into the songs.
  • Incorporate and teach choreography.
  • Design matching T-shirts for the concert.
  • Raise money to have the T-shirts printed.
  • Get props.
  • Make holiday decorations.
  • Create and print the Holiday Concert programs.
  • Correspond with parents that could bring refreshments.
  • Correspond with custodians to set up seating for over 100 people.
  • Correspond with the school media center to borrow a video camera.
  • And so on, and so on — I’m certain I left things out.

My point is that Cassie had a large number of responsibilities that needed attention in order to ensure the concert would be a success. She committed months of work to the event and in my opinion (and the general opinion of the parents and faculty who attended) the concert was an enormous success.

Cassie, on the other hand, was upset over the performance. After all of the songs were sung, the pictures were taken, the refreshments were eaten, and the guests had taken their leave, Cassie’s mood changed drastically. She was visibly upset as we cleaned up the cafeteria and packed everything into her car. Once we were on the road, I asked her what was wrong.

She immediately broke down. Suddenly she was talking so fast I could barely understand her. She voiced everything that was bothering her rapid-fire:

I’m mad that my students were doing exactly what I told them not to do and the concert started late because students wouldn’t stop talking and the girls in the alto section couldn’t stop giggling and students weren’t watching me and they were fidgeting during songs and some were talking between songs and the altos weren’t loud enough and some students didn’t even show up and that messed up the choreography of the dance moves and they were so much better during rehearsal…

Whenever I could get a word in, I encouraged her:

The concert was a success, hun. It looked like everyone there had a good time, hun. Most performances always start a few minutes later than the actual start time — I’m sure the audience expected it, hun. I thought the students sang very well, hun. It’s clear they practiced a lot for this, hun. I think the only reason you can even see any flaws is because you led them through every rehearsal. Remember that everyone else was seeing the concert for the first time. Plus the parents are all going to enjoy themselves and be proud of their kids no matter what happens.

Once her anxiety settled down, we drove in silence for a while. The more I thought about all she had said, the more I sympathized with her. I know that when you work really hard for something, you build up an expectation of how successful you want it to be. When its success will be a representation of your own success, you put even more pressure on yourself to get it right.

The thing is, when it comes to nitpicking tiny flaws in the actual outcome, you are your own worst enemy. In other words, your toughest critic is often yourself.

Cassie, I enjoyed the concert. So did the parents and faculty. So did your family members who came out to support you. You worked hard, and you got it right — so don’t be so hard on yourself.

Cassie and her Choir, 2007 Holiday Concert

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6 Responses to “Your Toughest Critic is Often Yourself”

#1 Jinno on 19, Dec, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Glad to see you’re back to posting consistently Shaun. And great article, It certainly is the truth, even when I play video games I find myself doing this. “Great Headshot!” Yeah, but I could’ve had better cover, I could’ve lined it up sooner, I shouldn’t have exposed myself. ETC.

#2 Dave on 20, Dec, 2007 at 9:02 am

As a former teacher and a person who is married to a teacher I can say that working in a school is a bit of a skewed environment to begin with. Now, if this was a corporate event, there would have been all kinds of people to help Cassie out… but in a school it is usually a ‘one man show.’ When you are responsible for absolutely everything, you are much tougher on yourself.

I had to chuckle about Jinno’s comment. I hope his inner critic that comes out during video games doesn’t have a big impact on his self-esteem. Oh wait… it’s a video game!

#3 John on 20, Dec, 2007 at 9:21 am

I coach a kid’s basketball team and I run into the same thing. There is some additional pressure with whether or not you win the game.

My goal has always been to teach the kids something and make sure they enjoy the experience, win or lose. But it’s very hard to focus on that when you go 2-8 for the season or you hear kids on your team telling others that “our team isn’t that good”. You feel like the team is a reflection of you, so it’s hard to see them not execute what you practiced or do things you specifically tell them not to do and still be satisfied that you reached your original goals.

So I sympathize.

#4 WereBear on 20, Dec, 2007 at 9:46 pm

We are often raised to not “have a swelled head” and not to brag. This is good advice, but it often prevents us from viewing our accomplishments with a clear eye.

Deprived of being able to feel good about what went right, we often concentrate on what went wrong.

Balance is the proper attitude. And balance is how we should criticize ourselves. Being too harsh is just as bad as thinking we can do no wrong!

#5 Nate on 23, Dec, 2007 at 4:21 am

Wow, great comments and great post. As time passes I’m gaining a lot more appreciation for teachers, coaches and the like. I never really understood how much they had on their plate.

#6 Aunt Chris M on 24, Dec, 2007 at 5:37 pm

I agree with you, Shaun! I know Cassie would’ve done a spectacular job! (Sorry I wasn’t there!) It’s amazing that one can put all the work into something, then the big event actually happens and we can always think of something we could’ve done to make it better. It’s hard to be content with our current progress/success. We need to be more accepting of our own faults and lacks, and work on them so that next time, we’ll see improvement. I teach skin care classes and tend to get some product or tip out of order and have learned that my clients don’t really care if I back up and show it out of sync. I used to get upset with myself, but I’ve found it works much better if I just laugh and show it anyway when I think of it! No one’s going to die because I show the eye make-up remover after the gals already have their make-up on! Life’s too short to get irritated about every little thing that doesn’t work out perfectly. Keep up the great writing, Shaun! Very insightful!

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