We all hear it sometimes. The little inner voice called self-doubt that greedily wants to bask in the spotlight of our life’s center stage. It can take the form of a drafty whisper or relentless bellow, heckling our performances and aspirations with judgments like “What makes you think you can actually do that?” “Why would they choose you?” “It would be better to not even try because you’ll just fail anyway.”
Why is it so much easier to believe in other people more than ourselves? I take encouraging others so seriously, but my own self-talk regularly impersonates an internet troll. This habit is often universal, haughtily snaking through seemingly assertive boundaries and linking us together regardless of accomplishments, status, backgrounds, or other dividers.
Jessica Honegger, the co-CEO and founder of the fair-trade, socially-responsible company Noonday Collection, has a brilliant term for calling out the lunchroom mean girls of our inner dialogue: “The Itty-Bitty B.S. Committee” (IBBC for short).
In her bestselling book Imperfect Courage she writes, “When we don’t have a helpful narrative to fall back on, we construct the worst possible one—and if we keep giving our IBBC authority, then we won’t step beyond that edge of comfort, which is where life is meant to be lived.”
The fact that I give my IBBC way too much power was abundantly clear recently by my secret reaction (elation) when my husband made an undeniable mistake, resulting in a hilariously ridiculous chain of events.
As an Army Combat Veteran, West Point Graduate, and Eagle Scout, he is one of those absurdly-organized, super-productive, over-achieving people who could bounce a quarter off (his side) of the perfectly made bed every morning. Every time he drives, green lights pave the way like Moses parting the sea, whereas I spend so much time stopped at red lights that I should pay them rent. He has this astounding Tasmanian-devil-like ability to spin through the house, accomplishing more in five minutes than I can in three days. But if you’re coveting this in your house, know this: living with one of those lovable yet irritatingly perfect people who never seem to make a mistake can drive one mad. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his efficiency, but whenever he does make the occasional blunder, I feel how any supportive wife does: delighted.
Then the glorious day occurred when he met his nemesis with the storm drain, which is conveniently directly under our mailbox. While being his typically efficient self and balancing the mail, holding his keys, and pulling up the recycling bin from the curb, the keys slipped from his hand and fell perfectly through the tiny slots of the storm drain.
The plop sound the keys made as they sunk into God-knows-what must be the exact audio version of the middle finger. I should also mention that we only had one set of keys to the car at the time. (I do not recommend this and give it zero stars.)
Being the persistent over-achiever that he is, he assessed the situation with two words: “Challenge. Accepted.” Because of course he is prepared with rubber waders at the ready in the garage. I tell you what, seeing your spouse in their rubber overalls glory, jumping into absolute sludge is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever; I can’t decide. What’s for sure though is that only Ninja turtles can pull this off as somewhat sexy. But I’ll allow it, because I was internally rejoicing that it was not me who dropped the keys down the storm drain. #yassss
Then another neighbor, bless him, joined in the fun (?) as they both started using buckets to filter through a 3-foot-thick mess of leaves, mud, and stormwater. They scared the pants off another neighbor, who rightfully mistook them as the Public Works Department when she walked past, until my husband started Forest-Gump-style waving from the Pit of Despair while hollering, “Hey Jen!!!! How’s the new puppy?!?!”
Most ridiculous of all is that he accomplished the minor miracle of finding the keys, although by then I considered them hazardous material and expected them to start glowing a violently neon shade of green. The keys were allowed back in the house after several rigorous cleaning and sanitizing cycles were deployed by us. (And by “us” I mean him.) Thank God it was a storm drain, not a sewer. Our standards may be low, but we do have a shred of them.
Then I got to thinking why it’s like Christmas morning to me sometimes when other people make a relatively harmless yet obvious mistake. (The day my husband dropped his phone directly into a bucket of paint could also rank in the top five best days of my life.)
The culprit is my own insecurity; that nasty voice that I let take the mic and narrate my life on too many occasions. The voice that rudely drowns out the other supportive, wonderful voices around me, like my husband, family, and friends. The voice that can batter self-esteem like a piñata and rejoices in the company when others falter, because then personal shortcomings don’t seem so glaring.
(Although the way the traffic lights seem to operate solely for my husband’s convenience can only be explained by the fact that sometimes life is obnoxious.)
Like the car keys, my self-perception had been stuck in the muck and needed to be rescued and polished. It was time to start firing the IBBC. Day by day, I started to reverse my own snarky, chiding inner dialogue into something more positive.
Instead of: “My under-eye circles are so dark,” I flipped that thought to: “You are a good mama for getting up four times last night to help your sick kid blow her nose.”
Rather than: “My house is a mess and I feel like I got nothing accomplished today,” I thought: “My kids had a great day full of memories and felt loved, and that is worth more.”
When my gut reaction is to feel jealous of that shiny girl who always looks perfect and seems to have it all together when I don’t, I replaced that inkling to “We all have our own inner strengths and private battles, and she may need a good friend like you in her life.”
Learning to be kind to myself, not just to those around me, was a small shift that de-fogged the clouded lens I used to view life through. There is only one single person on earth who we spend 100 percent of our time with, and that is with our own self. Let’s make it enjoyable company.
Whenever you find that IBBC trying to get back in the building, remember that you are the CEO of your own life, in charge of the daily operations. Believe that not only are you adequate, you are extraordinary. There isn’t a single person on earth exactly like you, and your unique perspectives, wisdom, and abilities are needed in this world.
And although my self-appreciation has skyrocketed with my shift in thinking, I still may feel somewhat exhilarated the next time my husband locks himself out of the house.