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Ignore the Inner Critic

I used to teach piano. I taught adults, children, teens, older students, troubled students, well-adjusted students, everyone. As I watched some people falter and some people fly, I came to see that the single most important factor in determining success with music had very little to do with innate abilities or intelligence. While hard work was very important, there was in fact something deeper that I believe is even more relevant to success; it was the ability to quiet this inner critic.


I heard this voice in my students, as they tried to improve. I could see their confidence slip away as the voice grew louder: “I’ve never been very talented. I’m not musical. It’s too late for me to start a musical instrument. I’m tone deaf. Who am I kidding?” The voice was often the loudest in adults, because children mostly just wanted to have fun with the piano, and the voice really doesn’t like fun, so they couldn’t hear it.


The voice says different things to different people, but it always fears the same thing: growth. When you set out to grow, you awaken that voice within you. The voice is clever, persistent, and cruel, and it is no small thing to ignore it. But I believe that genius lies beyond that voice. There is a qualitative difference in the energy of those who labor under this voice, and those who work without it. There is a vast ocean of creative power that you can draw from, but the voice keeps you from leaving the harbor. And so you never set sail. And the creative winds don’t blow very strong in the harbors of doubt, so you never get to feel the strong breeze of creativity on your face. But for those who do, the ones who keep going despite the voice, the ones who ignore the voice until it grows quiet – they sail so far out to sea that we just can’t understand how they could make such a journey, because we never knew how strong the wind was. And that wind of creativity, that wind of genius – it blows for us all.


But the inner voice keeps us from raising our sails. I believe that the ones we call genius: the Beethovens and the Picassos, somewhere on their travels, they just stopped listening to that voice, and they let the wind take them wherever it may. To borrow words from John Lennon, someone who sailed very far: “Who on Earth do you think you are? A superstar? Well, right you are. Well we all shine on.”


Move beyond the voice. 

Carl McCoy, copyright 2017

If you want to be something more than you are right now, you’ll have to ignore the voice: the nasty, clever, sabotaging voice of self-doubt. When you stay in the peaceful grayness of homeostasis, the voice softens, but when you push forward to grow, to change, to move towards your dreams, the voice will come rushing towards you, with all its destructive fury.

It’s not a unique voice, and it’s nothing personal. It can come from within you, and it can come from people around you, who don’t understand what you’re doing. But it will come: “Who do you think you are? Who are you kidding? Why would you want to do that?”


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