I Am a Driven Man, And It’s Killing Me

Four things you need to know about your inner Critic


So you are a driven man?

Well, honestly I’m surprised that you took time to read this. Most of us, the driven type, don’t have time to read articles that bring attention to who we are or what we do.

There I said it… or did I? It’s easier for me to talk about what I do, rather than for me to talk about who I am. I can be driven and it drives me nuts. My mind is like a talk radio station that’s always on in the background.

I can count on my Critic. He likes to keep me company. He shows up whenever:

  • I need to get something done but instead I procrastinate, check more facts, and do a little more ‘research’… (like that damned power point I’m still working on after six weeks and it’s due this Monday.)
  • I get a compliment… (because he only sees the shitty stuff).
  • I think about my kids, or my marriage… (reminding me of how I wanted to be a good dad and a good husband but secretly, I always feel like I’m a screw up).

Something changed when I started listening to my Critic.

First, I noticed that he’s negative, but I already knew that. But then I noticed that he doesn’t say anything original. His arguments can be summarized like this: “You are a screw up (and that’s all that you are)”; “There’s nothing you can do, nothing will work”; and “You don’t have enough time, or money, or energy, or brainpower…”

I’ve invested a lot of years being driven. My drivenness has helped me to get some things done, but the side effects have taken a toll on me: depression, anxiety and an unshakable feeling of dissatisfaction. Listening to my Critic, I learned four things:

Your Critic isn’t your friend… at least, not yet

Your inner Critic loves to talk to you about how much you suck. You should have said this, you shouldn’t have said that, you deserve this, you don’t deserve that. And since the Critic has been with you for most of your life, he knows exactly which buttons to push. After all, he helped install them.

Your Critic never shuts up

Judging others will always lead back to judging yourself.

Your Critic is happy to lecture you about anything: your career, your body, your family, your love life. He will lecture you about how badly you are meditating, or listening to your kids. How other people don’t like you and how you suck. Your Critic has no problem throwing other people under the bus, judging how others look, dress, talk, and how much they don’t measure up. But then he will turn the tables and stab you in the back. Because judging others will always lead back to judging yourself.

Your Critic is usually wrong (and he will never admit it)

My inner critic contradicts himself all the time. “You’re too ambitious, you’re supposed to be spiritual,” he’ll say one moment. And then the next, “you’re not ambitious enough, and your friends are more successful than you are.” I’m too assertive; I’m not assertive enough. I’m too loud; I’m too introverted. Too normal, too weird. Really, my inner critic flips positions more than most politicians. And yet, always with a sense of conviction and certainty.

Your Critic hates attention

My doctor tells me that my stress is effecting my health. So I decided to get more exercise and I  started to meditate… when I can remember it. But whenever I go for a walk, or when I meditate, my Critic is right there. The more that I try to slow down, feel calm and relax… the silence seems to make my Critic even more visible.

So what can we do?

It may feel unnatural, but the more you fight with him, the stronger your Critic becomes. Learning to get to know your Critic, will teach you to not to take him so seriously. Often – quite often – a mean, self-critical thought will come into my head, something meaner than I’d ever say to someone else. I am learning to be more gentle with myself, “Ha! Critic! I see you! And I am not impressed.”

It helps me to realize that my Critic is actually trying to help. And that shift is life-changing. 

You may notice that the Critic’s opinions aren’t really your opinions. You picked them up somewhere along the way – maybe from your parents, from society, or from just trying to survive whatever you have faced along the way. It helps me to realize that my Critic is actually trying to help. And that shift is life-changing.

Over time, I have learned to drop the struggle with my Critic. I have learned to recognize his voice. He talks, but I don’t have to allow my Critic to dictate my actions. I can’t tell you the number of emails, text messages, and cutting remarks that I’ve not sent out into the world because I recognized that the Critic was the one speaking. That, too, is a game-changer.

None of us can beat the Critic: not you, and not me. The judgments, the self criticism, the reminders of your worst moments cannot be silenced. But they can be tamed.

Making peace with your Critic begins when you stop taking it so seriously.

• • •

I invite you to read a related piece that I wrote, “Self Judgment and the Imposter Syndrome.”

Keep it Real

Previously published on the Good Men Project

Photos by Andy BealesDaniel Páscoa and Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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