Self Criticism

Cream in my coffee
Cream in my coffee

Such an interesting thing happens when we start to judge ourselves or our work. At first we might be really satisfied with the result, but then we often quickly devolve into finding something wrong. Or we set ourselves impossibly high standards, or we compare ourselves to others instead of comparing ourselves to ourselves. Or…….

That’s especially true, I think, for those of us with an anxiety disorder with a manifestation of OCD. I think everything I do has to be perfect. I have been working many, many years to internalize that perfectionism is not only not necessary, it’s not even attainable. Even if you excel at some things, you don’t excel at everything. In fact, the more expertise you have in one area, the more likely there are other areas of knowledge that you know very little about.

My husband once knew an aerospace engineer who was a world expert in liquid rocket fuel. If you asked him,  “What do you know about liquid fuel?” he would look at you, and without any hubris whatsoever, he would reply, “Everything. I know everything there is to know about liquid rocket fuel.”

If you followed that with the question, “What do you know about solid rocket fuel?” he would answer without the slightest trace of embarrassment, “Nothing. I know absolutely nothing about solid fuel.”

We can’t be great at everything we do. It’s impossible. So why do we think we can? What harsh standards we often impose upon ourselves in an effort to measure up to some imaginary bar rather than simply drinking life in, in all it’s gloriousness.

Yesterday and the day before I was happy with the start I had gotten on this new layout. It is a start. And I was super excited to share some of the images I have captured over the last month or so with my camera. Then I put up this photo of the cream swirling around on the surface of my coffee, and I noticed that it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t, after all, the work of a professional photographer.

In what universe should I be comparing myself to a professional photographer???? I who have never taken a photography class, who have no formal training in art or graphic design, and who hasn’t done even semi-serious photography in about 40 years. It makes no sense at all!

But our emotions often seem to make little, if any sense. They do, however, often give us windows into our psychies, if we let them. And this window into my psyche told me several things:

  • I was too tired. Way, way too tired, and I probably needed a nap.
  • I’d been working at the computer too long without a break.
  • I’d definitely been trying to cull far too many photographs all at once, so my head had become muddled.
  • And…… I probably needed to grab my camera, and take the dog for a walk. Both of those almost always help.

So here is my cup of coffee one morning, with the cream wonderfully swirling and making patterns on the surface for a few scant seconds, offered imperfectly to you with hope that you will be gentle with yourself today. That you will relish new things that you see, or understand, or a new skill you learn. And at the end of the day that you can look back and find at least one thing that you are grateful for. I am grateful that I captured the patterns of the cream swirling on the surface of my coffee.

7 thoughts on “Self Criticism”

    1. You’re more than welcome! I live less than 15 miles from Hollywood, and out here the pressure is really high to meet the “industry standard” of “beauty.” Very few people can attain that, nor should they necessarily try. But it’s hard to maintain a sense of your own beauty with the constant presence of a major industry holding up an impossible standard. Add to that the presence of modeling agencies, Disney studios, graphic artists, professional photographers, etc, and… it’s hard sometimes to not constantly compare yourself to professionals.

    1. We have to learn to be gentle with ourselves, I think. Too often our families and our culture tell us that we don’t measure up…. no matter, it seems, what we are supposedly measuring up to. I think learning to be gentle with ourselves is a life long process.

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